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LI toy drives scramble to meet holiday demand

Zion Turpin, 5, of Brentwood, searches for toys

Zion Turpin, 5, of Brentwood, searches for toys in the Toys of Hope warehouse in Huntington Station. Turpin came to Toys of Hope with his grandparents, Judy and Kenneth Gregory to get Christmas presents for their family. (December 18, 2009) Photo Credit: Mahala Gaylord

Facing a precipitous drop in donations this year in their efforts to provide gifts to needy youngsters on Long Island, many area toy drives are scrambling to meet holiday demand.

The Suffolk County Toys for Tots campaign run by the Marine Corps Reserves has received about 60,000 toys for its holiday campaign this year - compared to about 200,000 toys collected last year, according to Staff Sgt. Michael Walker.

With such dismal numbers, the campaign will not be able to meet the needs of many of the 80,000 kids who requested holiday gifts from Suffolk County organizations and charities, who then rely on Toys for Tots for the requests, Walker said.

"We're trying to do the best we can," he said.

The drop in donations occurred despite the drive's increased visibility this year, Walker said. Last year, Suffolk Toys for Tots had a representative at about 80 events, he said, but this year to date the campaign has attended 120 events.

In Nassau County, Toys for Tots campaign has reported receiving about 80,000 toy donations to date, significantly fewer than last year's collection of 170,000 donated toys, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Monteiro.

The decrease in toy donations is another victim of the terrible economics of 2009, said Andrew Spieler, an associate professor of finance at Hofstra University.

"People are living paycheck to paycheck. They can barely provide for themselves let alone for charities," said Spieler. "If you're barely paying your mortgage, your first thought is not going to be buying toys for charity."

Not every charity has reported difficulties. The Salvation Army's toy donations have remained steady this year, according to General Secretary Maj. Evan Hickman.

But smaller, local nonprofits and charities have struggled. At the Toys of Hope Children's Charity warehouse in Huntington Station, founder Melissa Doktofsky gestured at the shelves around her stacked with action figures and board games.

The bounty looked impressive, but Doktofsky said the inventory was actually lower than ever before in her 15 years of running the charity.

Demand is up, as well. Doktofsky said she has more than 4,200 people on her waiting list for services - in addition to her regular yearly clientele of 50,000 people on Long Island. In past years, there was no waiting list, she said.

The Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead begins registering families for its holiday toy drive in September. Usually the 700-family limit is reached in two months. This year, the list topped out in three weeks, according to director of communications Cynthia Sucich.

The makeup of families registering for the toy drive has changed as well, she said.

"When we approach the holiday season, we've seen more working class people asking for assistance," she said.

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