ALBANY, Ga. -- Volunteers and officials are concerned that a local toy drive might not pass muster for low-income families this holiday season.
The Toys for Tots drive in Albany had collected 5,000 toys by this time last year. This year, slightly more than 1,000 toys have been donated so far.
"We are extremely down," said 1st Sgt. James Watson, coordinator for the regional drive. "One of the reasons, I'm sure, is the economy, but if people can find an extra opportunity (to donate) ..."
In light of the low numbers, there is a push for collections set to take place from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with Humvees and five-ton military trucks in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
"We are asking the public to stuff the trucks," Watson said.
Distribution of the toys will begin Dec. 18. The items will benefit boys and girls from toddler age through 12-13 years. Items are especially needed for girls ages 9-12.
"The public doesn't think about that age group (of girls)," Watson said.
Toys for Tots is the largest Department of Defense outreach program. It serves as an avenue for the U.S. Marine Corps, charity organizations and the community to provide toys for underprivileged children. The program collects toys from October through December and distributes them as Christmas gifts.
This year's campaign opened on Oct. 21. At that time, officials were hoping to collect 30,500 toys. In 2009, more than 20,000 donations were collected.
Families wishing to register their children to receive toys from the program were instructed to do so through the Salvation Army. The deadline to register was Nov. 5.
Capt. Douglas McClure of the Salvation Army in Albany said close to 1,900 area children were being served through the program this year.
"We really need assistance from the general public," he said.
The captain also noted that the Red Kettle campaign is, so far, down 20 percent from last year.
"Both programs are quite behind," McClure said. "We definitely need the public to support these things."
Toys for Tots collection boxes are currently available in various visible locations in town, including the Albany Police Department Law Enforcement Center, Albany Lincoln Mercury, Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, Publix, Darton College, Porterfield United Methodist Church, Albany Area YMCA, Doublegate Country Club, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Toyota of Albany.
"We are very hopeful," Watson said. "Toward the end, we think the community will pull through."
All the toy donations should be $15-$20 in value. Monetary donations to the cause may also be made at www.toysfortots.org.
On a side note, a benefit concert is scheduled for the local Toys for Tots campaign at The Commons Church at 3014 Sylvester Road from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday. The admission is one new unwrapped toy.
The Toys for Tots program began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children, an effort that resulted in a nationwide campaign the next year. To date, the cause has distributed more than 400 million toys to roughly 190 million children.
For more information on the movement or to volunteer, call (229) 869-6442.