Toys for Tots sends an SOS | AspenTimes.com

Toys for Tots sends an SOS

BASALT ” Santa is in need of some big-time help over the next two days.

The organizers of the Roaring Fork Valley’s chapter of the Toys for Tots program sent out an SOS Wednesday. Their donations are sagging as the needs are rising.

“Normally this valley is just incredibly generous,” said Rev. Marie Gasau of the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, the prime organizer of the local program. “What has been donated is less than usual.”

Gasau figures the tough economic times have limited people’s ability to help, or they are just late getting around to helping. Collection boxes are set up at businesses from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

Meanwhile, tough economic times are forcing more families to seek help. Typically there are roughly 40 families with 150 to 200 kids that need help acquiring Christmas gifts. Gasau is estimating 50 to 60 families will seek help through the program this year. Scott Forsythe, another organizers, believes the demand could be higher and he shares Gasau’s concern about donations.

“It’s about 50 percent of what we’ve normally received at this time of year,” he said.

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Gasau personally knows of a couple of hardluck stories of people in need. One young couple finds itself in lean times after the man broke a bone in his neck in a construction accident. He should be home recuperating but is forced to continue working. They are scrapping by financially and cannot afford gifts for their children.

“They didn’t ask for help. I just knew their situation,” Gasau said.

In another case, a single mom came to the Roaring Fork Valley, where she has family, figuring jobs would be plentiful for ski season. Getting established is proving tougher than she figured, and her hosts are also facing tough times. The mother is worried about her ability to get Christmas gifts for her kids. She swallowed her pride and asked Gasau for help.

Gasau said her sense is that there are more unemployed and underemployed people in the valley than usual right now.

“It’s people that normally don’t ask for help. They’re almost embarrassed to ask for help.”

Most of the families assisted by Toys for Tots are referred to the church by Eagle County Health and Human Services and the Basalt Family Resource Center. They qualify for the free hot lunch program at school or for food stamps.

Toys for Tots is a U.S. Marine Corp. program that enlists civic and religious organizations to make sure every kid gets a gift for Christmas. Local hosts, like the Methodist can customize their program.

Gasau and her helpers do that by preserving the mystery of Christmas for kids and dignity for parents. The church hosts a party for the recipient families. While children are kept busy with goodies and a visit from Santa or Mrs. Claus, their parents go into a room where the gifts are stored. They are able to select and wrap a present and take it home to give to their kids on Christmas Day. When possible, the gift provided is matched to the child’s wish list.

Kids also are shepherded to a special area to pick out a gift for their parents. Forsythe said it is the only chance many of the kids will get to give a gift to their parents.

“We had one little guy throw up (because) he was so excited he could pick out something for his mom,” Forsythe said.

Forsythe said he got motivated four years to help with the program as much to honor the Marines who are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as helping families in need.

While the program is Toys for Tots, Basalt’s event also needs gifts for teenagers and gifts for parents. Forsythe said warm clothing ” gloves, hats and long underwear for men ” and jewelry or bed and bath items for women. Gasau said gifts like Gameboys are in high demand by teens.

Roaring Fork Valley residents can help in two ways. They can buy new toys and drop them off at the Basalt Community United Methodist Church in Holland Hills or at one of the drop-off spots: Alpine Bank in Aspen; Big O Tires in Basalt; Novel Tea Bookshop, Alpine Bank and Red Rock Diner in Carbondale; and American Furniture Warehouse, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Big O Tires in Glenwood Springs. Toys must be dropped off by 5 p.m. Friday. Only new toys will be accepted.

Cash contributions also will help. Gasau said they cannot take checks at this late date because the presents will be delivered Saturday. However, she will provide receipts to people who make cash contributions to her at the Methodist church over the next two days.

Always one to find silver lining, Gasau didn’t just dwell on the challenges the program faces this year. She also shared some success stories. A man perform useful public service as part of a sentence in a criminal case made an intricate doll house and donated it to the program. A woman performing community service crocheted baby blankets.

The Christmas spirit is always alive, Gasau said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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