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Paul Pilney, of Citrus County, just happened to make a stop in Levy County when something caught his eye: bold black letters across the top of a November issue of the Chiefland Citizen that read "No Toys for Tots this year."
"It killed me to see that headline. I said, 'Oh, no, this is not good.'" I read it and was really disturbed," Pilney said last week.
So, Pilney, Citrus County's Toys for Tots coordinator, got involved by sending an e-mail to Citizen Editor Lou Elliott Jones offering to give surplus toys from the previous year if she could arrange to get the toys to Levy County and then later find a way to distribute them.
"This man was just offering us toys," Jones said. "I kind of thought it might have been a joke. His offer just kind of floored me. It was so out of the blue."
But it wasn't a joke, as Jones found out when a truck from the Citrus County Chronicle, a sister paper of the Citizen, pulled into the the paper's parking lot with 20 cases of Hess trucks, five cases of batteries for the trucks, 36 Zhu Zhu Pet puppies and 12 Snow Flake Plush Ponies, all valued at about $10,000.
Pilney, with the Marine Corp League Detachment 819, has been the Toys for Tots coordinator for Citrus County for about 10 years. He said Levy County missed out on about $15,000 worth of toys from the organization this year by not having a coordinator.
"It kills me to know Toys for Tots is not in Levy County ..."
The late-coming news that Toys for Tots would not be offered this year after seven-year organizers Pat and Vince Arcadi bowed out because of illness caught many others off guard, as well.
Karen Driggers, owner of Second Impressions Consignment, started a Facebook drive for toys after hearing the news. On Saturday, she posted that so far toys have been collected for 89 children, with three to four gifts going to each child.
"It makes me feel awesome," she said in a phone interview last week. "I think so many people wanted to help, but they didn't know where to start."
Driggers said the Skinny Wallet, in Chiefland, and Second Times a Chance, in Bronson, have also helped in the drive, working as drop-off points for people wishing to donate toys. All three organizations are distributing the toys from Citrus County, as well as the many donations from people in the community.
"If everybody would do a little something, it makes a big difference."
Walgreens, in Chiefland, working with Guardian ad Litem, has also stepped up to the plate.
Walgreens Assistant Manager Tim Bushway said Monday that the store has about 100 toys, though some of those have come from Toys for Tots after the organization found out that Levy County had no representative. Walgreens is distributing some of the Citrus County toys, as well.
"We want to be involved in the community we're in," Bushway said. " Walgreens wants to be involved with Levy County and Chiefland."
The Children's Table, in Bronson, is helping with a few donated turkeys, roasted hams and has a toy donation box at the Dollar General Market in Bronson, according to founder Bill Brown.
"We never have enough," Brown said, adding that his organization helps to feed about 4,500 people a month.
Arlene Spencer, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of AMVETS Post No. 444, in Williston, said this is the first year the Post has got involved with the toy effort.
"The Ladies were all definitely behind it," Spencer said Friday, adding that many members of the organization were saddened to learn about Toys for Tots this year.
Spencer said Bronson Ladies Auxiliary of AMVETS Post No. 88, along with donations from The Bronson Volunteer Fire Department, were also part of the effort, which included buying toys for 32 children, gift bags and necessities for senior citizens and a Christmas event featuring a visit from Santa Saturday.
"Part of being with the Ladies Auxiliary ... is doing things in the community, and that includes our children," Spencer said. "Our children are our future."