Despite pandemic, Toys for Tots program draws donations, volunteers – TribLIVE

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Cardboard boxes filled with toys for kids of all ages sat in a Youngwood warehouse Monday morning, awaiting the sorting and assembly that will start a week-long process for the Westmoreland County Marine Toys for Tots program.
Now in its 25th year, the nonprofit helps collect between 25,000 and 30,000 toys for local children in need each year, impacting between 2,200 and 3,000 kids. This year, numbers appear to be on track with initial projections, showing about 2,000 youth signed up for the program.
“I can’t believe what this community gives, I really can’t,” said Denny Blank, dealership chairperson and founding member of the Westmoreland County organization.
Blank spent the morning with his wife, Becky, driving to car dealerships along Route 30, collecting toy donations gathered over the past few months. Four trucks also took to the streets Monday, collecting from various businesses across the county, a process that will continue throughout the week.

“I think it is for the need, for the people who come out,” Blank said of the importance of the project. “We do it every year and hope we get every kid.”
Crews worked to collect toys even before the official kick off date, with early pickups from bars and gyms — facilities forced to shutter under Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest round of covid-19 restrictions — and from the annual 40-mile caravan that ran along the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad line last month.
While exact numbers were not yet known, Jonathan Caccia, assistant coordinator for Toys for Tots, said they were on pace to meet past collections, despite hardships faced by millions of Pennsylvanians this year due to the pandemic and high unemployment rates.
“We’re not hurting,” Caccia said of donations.
To prepare the toys for pickup at the end of the week by parents and guardians who signed up for the Toys for Tots program, about 15 volunteers gathered at the warehouse, located in the Buncher Commerce Park on Jacks Run Avenue, to start sorting toys by age group and gender.
Once sorted, the toys will be placed in black garbage bags based on an application. A number on the bag will match up with a number a family was provided, which will be ready for pickup by Sunday.
While the pandemic has seemingly not hurt the number of donations received, it has impacted the number of volunteers permitted into the warehouse throughout the week. Rather than the usual 20 to 30 volunteers in the afternoons, the number is capped at 15, with the biggest cut in the evenings, with about 70 people now allowed rather than 100.
Those who are allowed to show up will be greeted by signs promoting social distancing and a worker who takes the temperature of each person entering the building.
Despite the restrictions, several volunteers felt it was important to get out and help with the project.
“This year, I think it’s more important than ever because of all the things that are happening out in the community, so we just feel that this is where we need to be,” said Cindy Loughran.
Loughran, 70, of Greensburg, starting volunteering with the organization last year with her sister Judy Spallino, 72, also of Greensburg.
“Once we saw what was happening here last year, we were so amazed at what they did and all the people that worked here so hard and the donations and everything. It was just so impressive,” Spallino said.
On the other side of the warehouse, Edward McCormick, 64, of Greensburg worked to sort bicycles. McCormick, who is a member of the Greensburg East Hempfield Lions Club, said members from various area Lions Clubs volunteer their time to assemble the bikes, do safety checks, ensure there is air in the tires and match the bikes with helmets.
Last year, volunteers prepared 250 bikes.
“You need people who step up and do these kinds of things because that’s what makes a community work,” McCormick said.
This year’s pickup, which will take place outside, will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Local | Murrysville Star | Norwin Star | Penn-Trafford Star | Westmoreland

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