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Economic struggles bring larger crowds to toy giveaway

December 22, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

HAGERSTOWN -- Christmas has always been a big holiday in Angela Siddique's family.

But the current economic downturn has been hard on Siddique and her husband, and keeping up with the monthly bills has been a struggle, she said.

For the first time, Siddique found herself at the Toys for Tots giveaway Tuesday afternoon, filling a shopping cart with Christmas presents for her daughters, ages 10 months and 9 years.

From stacks of new toys inside the warehouse at 13331 Pennsylvania Ave., Siddique choose some cuddly stuffed animals, a "glow doll" for her younger daughter to sleep with, a board game the family could share and an art set for her older daughter.

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"This has been a big help," Siddique said. "It makes me feel better, knowing they'll have more to open this year."

Siddique was not the only first-time applicant at the Toys for Tots giveaway, a partnership this year between The Salvation Army and the Marine Corps League Bulldog Detachment, volunteers said.

Volunteer Gary Thurber, 37, of Burnt Cabins, Pa., said he heard one woman say she always donates toys to the campaign, but this was the first year she found herself seeking help from the charity drive.

Thurber, who works in the mortgage litigation department of City Mortgage, said it was his line of work that prompted him to volunteer for Toys for Tots.

"You just hear a lot of hardship cases, from clients trying to stay in their homes," Thurber said.

The giveaway Tuesday was expected to help out 1,200 Washington County families, about 100 more than last holiday season, said Maj. Robert Lyle of The Salvation Army.

"I think it shows more of a desperate need this year," Lyle said.

By 1 p.m. Tuesday, close to 700 families had selected toys, Lyle said.

Lyle said he's seen more families come forward to select items at Toys for Tots this year. In the past, single parents have been much more prevalent at the drive, he said.

An estimated 21,000 toys and 1,200 food boxes containing holiday meal fixings were collected during the campaign, Lyle said.

The donations were collected by the Marine Corps League Bulldog Detachment, the fourth year it has partnered with The Salvation Army in Toys for Tots, said Wayne Gross, Bulldog Campaign chairman.

Natosha Fitzgerald, 26, of Hagerstown, said her daughters, ages 6 and 11, would have not received much for Christmas without Toys for Tots, which helped them this year for the second time.

"They want stuff I can't afford, being a single mom," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald says she is able to wrap the gifts she gets from Toys for Tots and place them under the tree herself.

This was the first year that prerelease inmates from the Washington County Detention Center helped volunteers prepare the food boxes, assistance that Larry Miller of The Salvation Army said helped reduce preparation time for the campaign.

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