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Toy charities still hoping for last-minute surge

Young volunteers with the Lighthouse Mission, Brooke Ziccardi

Young volunteers with the Lighthouse Mission, Brooke Ziccardi and Kimberly Heller, sort donated toys on Monday. (Dec. 21, 2009) Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Long Island toy drives hoping for a last-minute burst of donations before Christmas are so far left holding an empty stocking.

Pronto, a charity that mainly serves families in Bay Shore, Central Islip and Brentwood, handed out toys to 24,000 children last Christmas. The organization was even able to give each child four to five gifts, said Frank Sinisi, Pronto's president. This year, donations are down 15 to 20 percent from last year.

"Everyone has been very generous with the donations, but some organizations that save us have cut back a lot this year," Sinisi said. "Hopefully we will at least meet last year's number."

While Toys of Hope in Huntington Station received many phone calls Monday from people wanting to donate toys, the organization also received 307 more requests for toys since a Newsday story Saturday about Long Island toy drives, said founder Melissa Doktofsky.

"The snow is probably completely distracting everyone from donating," Doktofsky said. "When it snows like this, everyone thinks about their own issues and you can't blame them."

John Theissen, executive director of the John Theissen Children's Foundation, which gives out about 60,000 toys a year, reported that he had about 45 percent fewer toys this year.

"In 17 years, we have never said no to a child - this might be the first year," Theissen wrote in an e-mail to Newsday.

Meanwhile, demand remains high as the economy continues to lag.

Lighthouse Mission pastor Jim Ryan said he expected parents to camp out overnight Monday night in the parking lot at the New Life Community Church in Sayville for the mission's toy giveaway Tuesday.

Ryan said he's received about 5,000 to 6,000 toys - a little more than last year - for the annual giveaway, which is being held at the Sayville church while the Lighthouse Mission's building is being completed.

"Depending on how many people show up, I pray they'll be able to get at least two toys per child," Ryan said. "I'm praying we're going to have enough."

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