"This year we have the [Marine] Toys for Tots Foundation's support," said Richard Goodson, assistant local community organizer for Bartow's Toys for Tots campaign, which officially kicked off Saturday. "Last year we had confusion [when] toys were not staying in Bartow County.
"This year every toy and every dollar collected in Bartow County will be distributed in Bartow County. Nothing will leave this county that was given for this county. That has been guaranteed. We've already gotten with [Bartow County Sheriff Clark] Millsap and we will press charges if a box leaves a store [illegally] this year."
Along with fraud incidents -- people who were not associated with Toys for Tots collecting financial contributions -- Goodson said last year's campaign also was hampered with local donations being shipped to the organization's Rome or Atlanta headquarters and not returning to Bartow County.
"This year [the need] is going to be so great for the people in Bartow County," said Goodson, who also is the chief engineer for the Cartersville Physicians Center, in which Suite 130 will serve as the campaign's headquarters. "Whether you're [in Cartersville] or in Acworth or wherever as long as you are in Bartow County, the need is going to be unbelievable.
"The applications are triple -- [based on] what we're expecting -- from last year because of the economy, people not having jobs," he said, referring to providing toys to about 275 families in 2009. "It's really bad this year. I don't know how to stress it but it truly is the year [that] if there's ever been a need for donations and toys in Bartow County, this is the year because the kids, there's just so many of them. The parents right now are having a hard time paying rent and utilities so Christmas is almost a thing of the past for some families and we're trying to keep that from happening. Nobody should wake up on Christmas -- I don't care if you're 1 year old or 100 years old -- [without] Santa ... [visiting]. And we're going to make sure that [for] everybody -- kidwise -- that Santa does come."
Next week, The Salvation Army's Cartersville Corps will sign up applicants for its Angel Tree toy program and Bartow's Toys for Tots offering. Parents and legal guardians will be able to apply for assistance at The Salvation Army's office at 16 Felton Place Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will need to provide a photo ID, utility bill to verify address, and a Social Security card or Medicaid cards for every household member. Toys for Tots volunteers also will hold additional sign-ups during a few to-be-determined days in November at the Physicians Center.
By partnering with The Salvation Army, Toys for Tots will provide toys for about 450 of the total approved households that apply next week. To meet the community's growing need, Jane Nations -- operations manager for local Salvation Army -- said the assistance is greatly needed and appreciated. Last year, the nonprofit served about 1,000 children on its own, with anonymous donors purchasing up to three toys per child.
"With all the shake-up of the Marine base in Rome last year we didn't get any toys from Toys for Tots and it really affected us dramatically last year," Nations said. "So having that back available to us this year is going to be wonderful. ... [Last year] we were having to find donors who would donate money at the last minute so that we could actually go and buy toys.
"We were out the day before our distribution at some of the local retailers here with a list of our shortages, just trying to buy enough to cover everybody. It really had a devastating affect on us last year."
Goodson said the Toys for Tots program will distribute its toys for newborns to 13-year-olds Dec. 18 at the Physicians Center, starting at 9 a.m. The Salvation Army will issue the pre-approved applicants times to select items -- ideally three toys and stocking stuffers -- for each child. If there is an abundance of donations, the items also will help supplement other Bartow toy drives in addition to The Salvation Army's efforts.
Local Toys for Tots organizers currently are recruiting businesses to serve as collection sites either for the public or for just their employees. According to www.kingston-ga.toysfortots.org, participating Bartow venues include K & B Bargains; Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center; EYEWORKS; belk; Publix; Cartersville Medical Center; Dollar General in White; Tellus Science Museum; Harley-Davidson; Tractor Supply Co.; Georgia State Patrol; Bartow County Sheriff's Department; Army, Navy & Marine Recruiters; Bank of Ozarks; Wachovia Bank; SunTrust Banks; Pier 1 Imports; Hobby Lobby; Big Lots; Staples; American Legion Carl Boyd Post 42; Moose Lodge; Wachovia; and Walmart. All of the boxes will be marked "Bartow County," with Goodson and Royce Coker's names and phone numbers.
"I want people to realize this is a year where the need is beyond belief. Truly we have a need for Christmas [gifts] that is just phenomenal and it's scary. Right now the donations aren't coming in, the money's not coming in, the toys aren't coming in. It's scary but I also understand it's October," Goodson said, noting his operation is separate from the Adairsville community's Toys for Tots offering in which toys will be distributed at the Adairsville Church of God Dec. 18.
For more information about Bartow's Toys for Tots program, call Goodson at 404-593-3547 or Coker at 770-880-6316.