No Toys For Tots this year

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Christmas could be bleak for many children this year because the county's largest distributor of toys to families in need is no longer in business — in Levy or Gilchrist counties.
Most folks, when contacted to ask about some organization taking up the slack admit they had no idea Toys for Tots was no longer serving Levy County.
And there is little likelihood anyone one or any group can make up the time to pull off a successful Christmas toy distribution this year.
That might be confusing to some Levy County residents who have noticed there are Toys For Tots collection boxes in several businesses in Chiefland. Those donations will be going to children in Dixie County.
Pat and Vince Arcadi, who have operated the Tri-Counties Toys For Tots with the blessing of the Toys For Tots Foundation in Washington, D.C., announced earlier this year they would no longer run the operation citing his poor health. The couple said at that time they were seeking volunteers to take over what is a year-round operation.
The Arcadis have not given up entirely on Toys for Tots, instead scaling back to distribute toys in Dixie County where they live.
The Citizen was not able to reach the Arcadis, who did return a phone call to the Citizen voice mail.
But last year, at the toy distribution Pat Arcadi said 2011 was a difficult year as donations were down about 60 percent while the need went up 25 percent.
No one has stepped forward to take on what has to be the biggest headache in the three-county area.
Anyone wanting to run the operation would have to pass muster with the Marine Corps Foundation and attend training and stick to a regimen that has made the Marine Corps Reserves' toy drives among the most respected in the nation.
Locally the Tri-County Marine Corps League, a group made up of former Marines, participated heavily in the toy drive. “That never should have been that way, said Robert Lowyns, former Marine and Levy County Veterans Service Officer. “The Marines like to have a reserve unit oversee it, but because we do not have one in this area, they allowed the League to get involved.”
Lowyns, who coordinates services for about 7,500 veterans living in the Levy County, said volunteers have a lot of work to do setting out boxes for people to donate new toys, collecting and sorting and then putting them on display on distribution days. “It's a lot of work and not everybody wants to do that.”
Connie Brown, director of Tri-County Outreach, knows something about the work needed to pull off a successful toy drive. She has handled applications for families seeking toy donations.
“You gotta have a whole network of people,' she said. “One person cannot do just that. It's going to be disappointing for a lot of people because they are not going to be able to get everybody.”
In addition, volunteers had to staff application hours at the county's five public libraries to help with filling out forms that went into a database. “That is a huge endeavor,” Brown said. “If you want to collect toys, I have needy families.”
Brown said, “I had a few people, they called me, they came in wanting applications.” She said one person called the Arcadis. “He's just physically not able to do it.”
Earlier this year a store called wanting information on a contact for Toys For Tots in Levy County. But that was fruitless as she reported no one had taken over the toy drive.
Brown said she is in her busy season of collecting food to serve the average 170 people a month who pick up food for themselves and families at the non-profit organization. Outreach is holding its “Walk To Feed the Hungry in Chiefland on Saturday at 9 a.m. starting a Depot Park.
Several local churches contacted were mostly unaware of the demise of Toys For Tots in Levy County. Most are already participating in Operation Christmas Child, a national effort to collect gift items in shoeboxes that are shipped overseas for distribution to children in need.
Pastor Terry Wines of Chiefland First United Methodist Church said he first learned about the issue over the weekend and a group at his church would be contacting the Chiefland V.F.W. Post 5625 to see if they would take over the toy drive.
But VFW Post Commander Bruce McInnis said it has not come up, but now that he was aware of the situation he would bring it up at a meeting on Tuesday evening.
“I don't know what we would do. I can't make that decision on my own and our membership is old too,” McInnis said. “But for next year, we'd definitely participate. I think we'd be agreeable to that.”
But he had an observation for whoever thinks about taking on the challenge:
“This is not something you start in November. You should start this in February.”