With Christmas a week away, Toys for Happiness needs gifts

Toys for Happiness warehouse manager Kyle Neely sorts a bag of toys. The group's supply is running low as it still has requests to fill.
Toys for Happiness warehouse manager Kyle Neely sorts a bag of toys. The group's supply is running low as it still has requests to fill.

The toy tables in the Toys For Happiness warehouse on Flint Street Extension in Rock Hill are nearly barren. With just a week to go until Christmas, the annual program that provides toys for needy children at Christmas has run out of gifts for many of the children the program is supposed to help.

The warehouse is out of toys for infants and for children ages 9 to 14. And the few toys the program does have for the 3 to 8 age group isn't enough to fill the remaining requests for that group, said Beth Covington, director of marketing and communications for the United Way of York County.

So far, the program has filled toy wishes for 1,914 children but still has 377 children left, Covington said. United Way officials are worried about empty stockings and bare Christmas trees for the remaining children -- who could get nothing for Christmas unless more donations are received.

Contributing to this year's toy shortage is the shaky economy, Covington said.

Many families that donated toys and money last year have had to ask for help this year, she said. This year, toy requests are up 32 percent and donations are down, she said.

"We used to have van load after van load of consistent full boxes of donations," Covington said. "Now, we're picking up a handful."

Toys For Happiness, created by WRHI radio and the United Way of York County, allows families meeting eligibility requirements to submit a wish list for their children ages infant through 14. Volunteers use the lists to pack a bag with gifts for each child.

Volunteers will distribute toys to families beginning today. They were supposed to complete giving out toys Friday. However, because of a lack of toys, United Way officials have asked 200 families that were scheduled to pick up toys Friday to wait until Monday in hopes of getting more toy donations over the weekend. The program has never had to delay toy distribution, Covington said.

Kathy McManus of Rock Hill said she's depending on Toys For Happiness this year to provide Christmas gifts for her children.

"This was our last resort," McManus said.

McManus, 41, is raising six children -- three of her own, a niece and two grandchildren. Their ages range from a 7-month-old infant to a 12-year-old. If McManus can't get toys from the program, there will be no Christmas gifts for the children this year.

"It will be hard when the kids wake up. They won't understand why they don't have toys," she said.

Since Monday, the United Way has been inundated with calls from people in need of toys for their children but who missed Saturday's final application deadline, said Lora Holladay, community outreach coordinator for the United Way of York County. The organization has 42 names on a waiting list for those who missed the deadline, and Covington said she expects that number to increase.

Although it's not unusual to have a waiting list for people needing toys, Covington said she's concerned that the program may not be able to fill the needs of those on the waiting list as they did last year.

Toy lists cut back

Earlier this week -- to make their dwindling toy supply last longer -- volunteers decreased the number of toys given to each child from seven to four, said Debbie Hayworth, Toys For Happiness coordinator. But even that wasn't enough.

Volunteer Roger Neely, 53, said he spent most of Tuesday afternoon visiting and calling local businesses, begging them for donations for Toys For Happiness.

Neely said a few of the businesses he visited donated money to the program. Monetary donations will allow the volunteers to purchase toys for the remaining children, Neely said.

Another charity that may not have enough donated gifts to fill requests this Christmas is the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. Many businesses and some malls have trees decorated with paper angels containing the name of a child and a specific gift that child hopes to get for Christmas. To participate, donors pick an angel off the tree, fill the request and return it to the location of the tree.

This year, the Salvation Army distributed about 700 angels throughout Rock Hill, said Maj. Melody McClure of the Rock Hill Salvation Army.

Today, Salvation Army officials will know how many angels received gifts. If all the angels haven't received gifts, the organization will have to shop to fill the leftover requests.

"We're hoping that most of our angels are back already and we won't have to do too much," McClure said.

The Toys for Happiness program also will have to shop for gifts if it does not receive more toy donations. But money is limited -- like toy donations, monetary donations also are down, Covington said.

Especially needed are infant toys, bikes, sporting items such as basketballs, baseballs and mitts, and gifts for older children ages 9 to 14, including CD players, wallets, hair accessories, makeup and jewelry.

"So many families are saying the same prayer: 'I hope I will be able to provide for my family this year,'" Hayworth said.