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Christmas spirit turns vacant store into toyland

Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army held annual distribution of toys and food for needy families

December 21, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Anthony Holmes, left, and Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore sing "Silent Night" at the annual U.S. Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army's Angel Tree distribution of toys Tuesday at Longmeadow Shopping Center in Hagerstown.
Yvette May, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — For a few hours on Tuesday, the community's generosity turned a vacant store at Longmeadow Shopping Center in Hagerstown into a one-stop shop for Christmas joy for hundreds of local families.

The Washington County branches of Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army held their annual distribution of donated toys and food for needy families in the former CVS space Tuesday morning.

Working together, The U.S. Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots program and the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program were expected to distribute toys to 2,646 children in 1,380 families in Washington County, Salvation Army Maj. Karen Lyle said.

Donated toys, arranged for children by age and gender, were stacked high on tables around the edge of the store. The program offered toys for boys and girls for ages ranging from  newborn to 2 years old, 3 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to12.

The new, unwrapped toys were collected at donation sites all over the county.

"Folks gave unbelievably wonderful toys, very high-end toys, and these kids are really going to be surprised this Christmas," Lyle said.

At the center of the room, mesh stockings stuffed with smaller toys also were sorted by age and gender.

Along another wall, boxes filled with nonperishable food were stacked in rows. The boxes included gift cards to buy perishable items and had everything needed for a Christmas dinner, said Scott Kretzer, Toys for Tots coordinator for Washington County.

As parents arrived, they were given shopping carts and matched with volunteers who accompanied them around the room to pick out gifts for their children. The parents were allowed two items — a large gift and a smaller one — per child, plus a stocking for each child and a box of food for the family, Lyle said.

"It helps out a lot," Kristina Stouffer, 23, of Fairplay, said of the donated toys, which she was picking up for her three children, ages 8, 5 and 5 months. "Without them, I wouldn't be able to do it."

Stouffer said she appreciated being able to choose the gifts herself, although she said her children weren't picky.

"They're happy with anything," she said.

Kayla Finnegan, 27, of Hagerstown, said she was able to buy some gifts for her three children, ages 4, 2, and 1, but couldn't afford much on her own and was glad for the donated gifts.

"It's a really big help, with money being tight," she said.

Lyle and Kretzer both said the number of people in need of help was higher this year as more families have fallen on hard times due to the down economy.

"We have a lot of first-time families coming in that have never been in before," Lyle said.

About 100 families were going through the distribution center every half-hour, she said.

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