Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pittsburgh Toys for Tots ignores "New Needy"

Finally, the information on the Toys for Tots open house.

We are hosting an open house from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM on the 19th and 20th of December. The location is 313 Boulevard of the Allies which is Lawrence Hall on the Point Park University campus. To receive toys you will need to bring identification for both yourself and your children, proof of government assistance, such as welfare, WIC or Access cards and the children themselves.

For those of you who may not recall, in 2007 Toys for Tots did not offer open houses because of the lack of manpower (deployment to Iraq) and their new West Mifflin location. They asked agencies to pick up the slack. My then agency didn't question anyone about being eligible for government assistance and served hundreds of families.

The Marine in charge told tales of hundreds of people waiting in the snow and freezing rain with no port-a-john, no food or beverage and a lot of children. Apparently, it wasn't pretty and hard to manage (imagine what people do to ensure their children have a nice holiday).

I don't think the plan went very well, mostly due to agencies' capacity to absorb hundreds if not thousands of extra people.

So this year, the Open House is back. I am not sure what happened in previous years, but the requirement of proof of government assistance stuns me. This was printed by the PG which is a partner in this project (see the relentless Goodfellows pleas the past month), the very same paper running story after story about the new needy.

Will an unemployment check count as proof of government assistance (especially if you worked in financial services and the government assisted your bosses)? What if you are working two part-time, minimum wage jobs and giving up time at the foodbank line to try to get some toys for your kids? What is you just qualified for LIHEAP? What if you just got your pink slip yesterday and know that money is going to be tight?

I am stunned. Certainly, people on public assistance deserve the toys. But what about all of the other people?


  1. I didn't want to comment this way, but I couldn't find a way to contact you privately. I think it is just sad that you didn't get all the facts.

    There were two ways that people could get toys: 1) agencies signed up to receive toys, so they continued like they did last year and anybody who went to one of those agencies, like The Bradley Center and AIU, could receive the toys. 2) Individuals receiving government assistance could come to the open house to get toys. The reason this was done was because last year the agencies got so overwhelmed with requests from people who weren't part of their agency - it is busy enough to take care of your own clientele but harder to take on new people - and who wants to turn away kids from toys at the holidays.

    I was at the Open House, and although it started off quite chaotic, around 500 individuals came in to get toys for their children, so an average of three kids per individual - we can get the numbers but we don't yet have the numbers, that's an additional 1500 people that were served through the open house on top of the agencies receiving toys. Are there problems, yes, but Toys for Tots is working to go through as many avenues as possible to make sure that children in need get toys.

  2. Anonymous. If you want to dialogue, you need to post your own name. You can click on my profile to find me (see right hand column).

    I have coordinated toy drives for multiple years and worked closely with Toys for Tots. I worked 72+ hours of overtime staffing an agency drive that was open to the public. I've been to the local Toys for Tots warehouses and talked with the very nice Marine's staffing the project. I was at their meetings explaining the changes so I think that I have plenty of facts.

    Toys for Tots is a long-standing, nationwide program that is super well organized in terms of soliciting donations so there should be a good infrastructure for distribution. I am glad so many people were served, but I can count on all my toes and fingers the people I personally know (not my clients) who don't meet the program requirements but still really really need the help.

    I'm not blaming any one person or group for this infrastructure failure. I'm just saying it exists and that the partners in this project, including the Marines and the Post-Gazette Goodfellows Program and the big local sponsors, should take a critical look at this issue before next year's holidays roll around as I'm guessing we won't be out of the woods by then. So how can Toys for Tots meet the needs of this new demographic?

    There's a bigger issues of other people falling through safety net programs because they aren't yet poor enough to qualify. This is just one example.

  3. One thing further. You state that "anybody who went to one of those agencies, like The Bradley Center and AIU, could receive the toys."

    That is untruee. Agencies were not required to take anyone who called, simply to expand their lists by 50%. The majority of local agencies do not have the capacity or infrastructure to serve as a clearinghouse for toy distribution. I have firsthand experience trying to help people find an agency through which they can register and it was not easy at all. In fact, many were unable to do so simply because they are not clients and aren't yet receiving Government Assistance.

    I personally made calls to offices of the agencies you identified and was informed that the lists were not open to individuals not being served by that provider. So that avenue to toys was limited to a predefined set of people.

    The problem is about structure and capacity. Does the program meet the needs of the people being served? I would argue there is a serious systemic flaw.

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  5. I agree that problems exist and I think that both of you women make valid points, but I don't think this is the place or a time of year to argue over it. You both want common goals and for you to get your feathers ruffled over the way something was worded is a little out of sorts. I think you have common interests and should focus on that

  6. Does anyone know if any of the local Toys for Tots are still accepting donations?

  7. Sue,
    So sorry that even though wonderful people give of their time and energy, there are people who will STILL complain that it isn't done right!!
    If you could help me find the answer to my quandry, I would be so appreciative.
    I signed up for Toys for Tots in Ambridge, PA. I received three cards for $30 gifts to go and pick out. My disabled husband since then became very ill, and I did not have the gas or money to get to the store which is 25 mins away. Are there still toys to pick up for my children? I am living in fear that they will not have their toys. It was an unavoidable situation. I think there were other toys that we were to pick up besides the $30 one we were to pick out. Am I right? Is there any way to still get to the store to pick out the $30 gifts?
    Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated!
    And thank you for volunteering your time to others. It is even more helpful than you uplifts the spirits of people who would otherwise simply sink. Thank you!