Toys for Tots campaign: ‘Every child deserves something under the tree’

 

Dennis Sipple is surrounded by donated toys at a Toys For Tots warehouse in Kent County. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — For the last few years, the Kent County chapter of the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program has struggled to find a stable location to stockpile their charitable haul. In late September, Kent County Levy Court put an end to their search — at least for this year.

Local Toys for Tots representatives approached the county and asked if they’d be able to use the currently vacant, 10,000-square-foot building on Starlifter Ave. in Dover this fall. Not having any immediate plans for the building, commissioners unanimously agreed to lease the building to the charitable organization for a short term (until mid-January) for $1.

“This building has been perfect,” said the Dennis Sipple, Kent County Toys for Tots coordinator. “We were thankful to use the place we did last year, but the roof leaked pretty badly — we could look up and see the sky.”

In 2015, Toys for Tots was using Greentree Shopping Center for this purpose, a location they’d been at for five years. But, in 2016 they found out that it was unavailable and they had to store gifts temporarily in a storage shed in Woodside. Later that year, they were able to store gifts at a vacant building that became available in the Bay Court Plaza in Dover, although they had to do some repairs on the heating system. Earlier this year, they found out that they’d once again be on the hunt for storage space. Luckily, the county building meets their needs and was already in usable condition.

The county purchased the building — originally built to house a business called Monster Racing — back in late 2015 for $845,000. According to county administrator Michael Petit de Mange, the lease works out well because the county doesn’t have an immediate use for the property. It was originally purchased in anticipation that the “civil air terminal” in the nearby Dover Air Force Base would one day expand.

If the county again finds itself in the same position at this time next year, Mr. Petit de Mange said commissioners would likely continue to support Toys for Tots’ mission — possibly offering a longer term solution to their storage space woes.

Toys for Tots campaign in full swing

Residents who donate toys often don’t start thinking about it until after Thanksgiving, but Mr. Sipple gets to work much earlier than that. He starts soliciting donations and using leftover funds from previous years to purchase toys in early October to get a needed jump on preparing them for distribution in mid-December. Some toys he even has to distribute far in advance.

“We just had the state come in earlier this week to pick up over 100 toys for foster kids in their care,” said Mr. Sipple.

As of Wednesday, Mr. Sipple and his family had already packed 213 bags with toys for families who’d already registered, but that’s just the start.

“We’ll usually help out 1,200 to 1,300 families per year — that’s about 4,000 kids in Kent County,” said Mr. Sipple. “We’ll need to pack at least 1,000 more of these bags, so we’ll need to collect a ton of donations between now and early December.”

Toys arrive in several different ways. Fellow Marine Corps League members in the Kent County detachment regularly collect donations from about 170 red boxes placed at businesses and in organizations’ lobbies throughout the county, from Milford to Smyrna.

Some groups and businesses organize toy drives while individuals may donate money. Monetary donations are turned in to the Toys for Tots foundation, where the money is put on credit cards and sent back to coordinators who buy toys to supplement what is collected in local drives and boxes.

The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware is holding a “Breakfast with Santa” Toy for Tots fundraiser and donation drive at their headquarters in Dover on Dec. 2.

June Jam is holding a four-band benefit concert at the American Legion in Dover on Dec. 3. Bringing a toy reduces the entry fee from $10 to $5.

Dynamite Championship Wrestling in Milford will hold its annual Toys for Tots campaign on Dec. 9.

The foundation’s guidelines require Mr. Sipple to keep records and spend less than $30 per toy. All toys must be new, not include food and not look like realistic weapons, according to the Toys for Tots website. Mr. Sipple said that he often ends up short when it comes to toys for babies and older kids.

Mr. Sipple said he tries to keep gift purchases under $20, to stretch the money and help as many families as possible. Volunteers separate the toys stored at the warehouse by traditional gender-interest and age-appropriateness. Mr. Sipple says volunteers from the Central Delaware detachment of the Marine Corp League, Playtex, June Jam and various ROTC groups are invaluable when it comes to providing the manpower for the colossal effort.

“Our volunteers always go by the age appropriateness printed right on the box,” he said. “Families in need fill out online forms with us that include the child’s name, gender and age so we can make sure they get something that’s right for them. Then they get an email back that tells them when and where to come pick up the toys. Everyone has to be pre-registered — this is only because I can’t have 500 people show up the day of to pick up toys we don’t have.”

The original Toys for Tots drive began in 1947 and went national in 1948. The Marine Corps League, a U.S. chartered Marine veterans organization, of which Mr. Sipple is a member, came on board in 1996. Mr. Sipple himself has been involved with the effort in Kent County for about 16 years. His family often meets at the storage site after work and school to pack and organize the donated toys together all week and over the weekends in the lead up to the distribution days. The final week, Mr. Sipple takes vacation time from his job at Playtex in Dover to spend several days to complete packing and oversee distribution.

Over the years, he’s seen some families in sore need — recently homeless families with a single parent with hardly the means to feed their children much less buy them toys. That Mr. Sipple and his family get to be a part of helping these people put a smile on their children’s faces make all the work worthwhile, he said.

“It’s a lot of work, but we just like knowing that these kids aren’t going to wake up with nothing on Christmas,” Mr. Sipple said. “Every kid deserves something under the tree. Sure, it takes us a lot of time, but it’s worth it. Every year I say it’s time to retire, but my wife and I look at each other and say: ‘Well, maybe just one more year.’”

For more information, visit toysfortots.org. A full list of collection sites can be found clicking “find local drop-off” and selecting “Delaware” and then “Kent” from the pull down menu.

 

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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