The annual Toys for Tots campaign is wrapping up this week as members of West Central Illinois Leathernecks Detachment 1177 of the Marine Corps League prepare to distribute the presents they’ve collected.
Parents will pick up the toys this weekend to give to their children on Christmas.
Tim Ritzo, Jacksonville’s Toys for Tots coordinator, said this is the 38th year for the program in Jacksonville.
“When we started out, we had between 20 to 25 Marines, many who have passed on now, and we had maybe 50 kids we handed out presents for,” Ritzo said.
The group collects toys in Morgan, Scott and Cass counties and also buys some to provide toys for children ages birth to 14 whose parents are not able to afford Christmas presents.
The number of children who receive presents through the program has continued to grow, Ritzo said.
“In 2017, we were able to provide toys for almost
1,200 children,” he said.
For him, the program is about providing a merry Christmas for children.
“We are trying to provide a happier Christmas for those that are less fortunate,” Ritzo said. “We want to help provide a present for those kids.” The program has changed in recent years because of the growth in participation, he said.
In previous years, the program had a Christmas party for the children to attend, have snacks and receive their gifts. Now the program distributes the gifts to the parents to give to their children.
“We invite parents or guardians to come without their children to pick a present and wrapping paper to give to the kids on Christmas morning,
or whenever they are celebrating Christmas,” Ritzo said.
“It gives the children something to wake up to on Christmas morning. “ Parents attending the distribution will go through Jacksonville Area Senior Center in Community Park and receive age-appropriate presents for each of their children before receiving wrapping paper.
There were 300 families pre-registered Monday.
While the final day to register for a toy has
passed, parents who didn’t pre-register still can attend the toy distribution, because any extra toys will be handed out while supplies last.
Toys will be distributed at the center in Community Park at 1309 S. Main St. from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.
to noon on Saturday, as long as supplies last.
Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree can be reached at 217-245-6121, ext. 1233, or on Twitter @JCNews_samantha.