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This season, free toys are in short supply

When more needy families than expected show up at the annual distribution, the toy pile dwindles quickly, but food is plentiful.

By MICHELLE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002


DADE CITY -- The early ones got the toys Saturday at the annual Toys for Tots distribution at the Pasco County Fairgrounds.

But, no one left empty-handed.

"It is almost a given the toys will run out," said Joey Wubbena of the Dade City Fire Rescue Squad, who was in charge of the toy distribution.

At 10 a.m., two hours after the people started to pick out two toys for each of their children as well as a stuffed animal and stocking stuffers, a long line snaked around the main entrance and down to the gate. Inside the building, the piles of toys were diminishing quickly.

But food was plentiful.

"We brought 1,000 boxes of food, plus bread, so the food will last," said pastor David Raley of New Life Assembly in Trilacoochee.

The food boxes were provided by Food for Tots, a part of the church's ministry.

"If they get nothing else, they will get bread and food," Raley said.

However, that didn't make Bob Loring feel any better.

Tears filled his eyes when he realized the free toys would run out before all the people were served.

"My heart is breaking," said the retired Marine, who is in charge of the east and central Pasco program sponsored by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Units throughout the nation. "I will have to apologize to everyone in the line."

In Zephyrhills and Land O'Lakes there were enough toys for the 270 families that came to the two distribution centers, he said.

"Twice as many people showed up this year than last year, at all three sites," Loring said. "I guess people heard about all the food we gave away, and with all the publicity, more came."

Loring said he would go back to the basics of getting toys next year.

"I thought with all the boxes (at area businesses) and the Postal Service drive, we would have enough," he said. "So instead of trying to get socks and toothbrushes from Rotary Clubs, I will have to do a better job of raising toys."

Last year 840 east Pasco families representing 2,487 children received toys, and some were left over to go to other organizations for needy families.

"We have twice as many families registered this year," Loring said.

Melissa Thomas of Dade City arrived early.

"I came at 4 a.m., and there were about 100 others before me. They started lining up at 1 (a.m.)," she said.

Thomas took home a bike for her niece, Angel Lambert, 9, and some other toys and food.

"This is a Christmas present and early birthday present for her," said Thomas. "This really helps me out a lot, and I really appreciate it."

Norma Lenares of Dade City was another happy recipient.

She picked out a basketball for her son and makeup and a hair dryer for her two daughters.

"It really helps with my Christmas," she said.

Nancy Gary was one of the volunteers helping her through the process.

"We ran out of toys for the younger boys, so we had to go to the teenage boys stack," which was also dwindling quickly, she said.

Wubbena said there were fewer toys this year than in 2001.

"I don't know if after Sept. 11 last year people gave more or not," he said. "But Tampa didn't have as much, either. I guess it is hard to guarantee a toy for everyone."

-- Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4612, or (813) 909-4612. Her e-mail address is jones@sptimes.com.

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