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Toys for Tots continues tradition

December 19, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Derek wasn't with his mother Saturday afternoon in the empty McCrory's store at Long Meadow Shopping Center, but she knew what her 5-year-old wanted for Christmas.

Cole Barnhart, chief warrant officer of the Bulldog Detachment of the Marine Corps League, carried a large plastic garbage bag and escorted her through the rows of toys spread throughout the cavernous store. They stopped at a mountain of stuffed toys.

She picked up a reindeer.

"He's always worried about Santa's reindeer," she said.

Barnhart led her to a row of games. She chose Batman.

"He likes Batman," she said.

From the big toys section, she grabbed a Tonka truck.

"Now, he can dig in my garden," she said. "He's already dug up all my flowers."

Derek's mother was among hundreds of people who spent much of Saturday waiting for hours in a line that snaked from the store's entrance so their children would have something for Christmas. The event ran from 1 to 6 p.m.

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It was the fifth consecutive year that members and volunteers from the Bulldog Detachment ran the local Toys for Tots program. Toys for Tots Foundation is an official nationwide charity organized by the Marine Corps Reserve, said David Danfelt, historian for the league's Hagerstown chapter.

This year, league volunteers estimate they will give away more than 12,000 toys.

"Every year, it grows by 400 to 500 more people," Danfelt said.

Carl W. Lenhart, chapter paymaster, said the league spent about $8,000 it raised to buy about 4,000 toys for the area's less-than-fortunate families. The other 8,000 toys were donated by individuals and organizations. They were left in drop-off boxes that the league spread around the community.

"We're going to run very close this year," Lenhart said. "There are a lot of people out there."

It was only 2:30 p.m., but Lenhart and Danfelt were trying to decide if they needed to make an emergency toy-shopping trip to ensure that no one in line went home disappointed.

An emergency shopping trip was made last year when toys started to run out, Danfelt said.

"Two years ago, the Marine Reserves from Frederick (Md.) had to bring us toys," he said.

Barnhart said Derek's mother was the eighth person he had escorted and it was less than two hours into the event.

"At least she only had one child," Barnhart said. "Some people I've taken around today had four and five children."

Barnhart, 31, said he has three boys of his own, ages 3 to 7.

Each child gets a big toy, two smaller ones and a stocking stuffer, Danfelt said.

Social service agencies qualify families for the league's toy program.

"We try to estimate how much we're going to need for next year by the number of people we have this year," Danfelt said. "We never know how many families we're going to have until they come through the door. They start to line up two to three hours before the door opens. Last year, we gave toys to more than 2,000 kids."

There are always some who try to take advantage of the league's generosity. A security guard watching the crowd outside told Danfelt that one person tried to go through the line twice.

League volunteers take toys to Washington County Hospital on Christmas Eve for children who can't be home for the holidays, Danfelt said.

The local league chapter has about 80 members. Danfelt said more than 20 members and volunteers showed up to help Saturday.

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