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[December 15, 2008]
Parents' need for holiday help up
Dec 15, 2008 (Daily Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Santa's helpers have a hard time keeping up
Helping others have a good holiday season is becoming harder and harder.
Toys for Tots in Whiteside County is be-hind on donations. The charity took in only 20 percent of what it usually brings in at its annual toy drop-off at the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We're not getting as many [toys] as we normally do," said Paula Chavez, a Toys for Tots coordinator in Whiteside County.
The charity has received more than $10,000 in cash donations, but not enough to make up for the toy shortfall.
To make things tougher, the number of requests for toys this Christmas in Whiteside County has gone up from 1,700 children to 2,000 children.
The demand has been increasing steadily over the last few years, Chavez said.
"I think the economy is a big factor for why we're not getting donations and why there is a big [amount] of children in need," Chavez said.
Toys for Tots isn't alone.
The number of requests for help through the Whiteside County Health Department's annual holiday party increased this year from 800 requests to 1,000 requests.
Two years ago, the department only had 500 requests.
The party, which has games, Santa Claus and educational booths, is expected to help 500 kids this year.
"It just gets bigger and bigger every year," said Pam VanderVinne, the health department's case management coordinator who helps organize the annual party.
The health department, whose employees volunteer and donate to make the Christmas party possible, referred many of its requests to the Jaycees, The Salvation Army, CGH Medical Center and even Toys for Tots.
As more people ask for help, some of those who try to help sometimes must cut back.
The Rock Falls Police Department ended its holiday assistance program 2 years ago because of fewer donations, Chief Mike Kuelper said.
The Dixon, Sterling and Rock Falls Police departments all were competing for donations from local businesses.
Those donations started to slow down in 2001, after Northwestern Steel and Wire closed, Kuelper said.
The Rock Falls police and fire departments would spend about $3,000 a year to help nine families.
The Sterling Police Department decided not go ahead with its shop with a cop event this year because of the economy, said Sgt. Bob Allen who organizes the event for the department.
The department spends $2,000 to $2,500 to help 15 to 20 kids.
The story is not the same in Lee County where the Toys for Tots program is doing well.
"This is the biggest year we've had," said Ralph Contreras, the coordinator for Toys for Tots.
Goodfellows, which helps organize the different assistance programs during the holiday season, from Toys for Tots to Shop with a Cop, believes it will be able to meet the needs of Lee County.
"I'm very surprised, people are buying nice stuff to donate," said Marilyn Rhodes, the Goodfellows coordinator.
Goodfellows has about 400 families asking for assistance this holiday season, and each year the average is between 300 and 400 families, Rhodes said.
One of the places that helped with donations was J Salon in Dixon.
As part of a first-year anniversary celebration, owner John DeLong wanted to give back to the community that welcomed him a year ago.
He offered 30 percent off hair products in his salon if people donated toys at his store. About 60 of his 200 regular customers brought in everything from Play-Doh, basketballs, volleyballs, and police officer costumes to an Easy Bake Oven.
He then chipped in $1,000 himself to buy 70 toys. All together, DeLong raised about 225 toys for needy children.
"My goal was to have a lot of toys and break even," DeLong said, "and I achieved it."
To make a monetary donation to Toys for Tots in Whiteside County, make your check payable to Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and mail to: Sauk Valley Marine Corps League Toys for Tots, c/o Santos and Paula Chavez, 1303 Lincoln St., Rock Falls, IL 61071. For more information, call 815-622-9155.
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