Silver bells. It’s Christmas time in the city.
Java City, that is.
The holiday season isn’t so merry or bright for the owners of this cozy corner espresso and sandwich joint at 18 S. Monroe.
Blame it on an unseen army of unwitting tormentors who keep confusing Java City’s telephone number with the Toys for Tots hot line.
Java City owners Joe Nollette, 28, and his brother, Maury, 26, say they receive dozens of these wrong numbers every day from people wanting to get on the list to receive toys. The same thing happened last year and it’s enough, they say, to pluck the plum pudding out of even the most festive soul.
A typical call goes something like this:
“Hello, Java City.”
“Hi, is this Toys for Tots?”
“No, this is Java…”
“Uh, sorry.” Click.
“We’re going crazy in here,” says Joe, raising his voice into a laugh-laced holler.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of harmony, but this is a jingle bell crock.
On particularly annoying days, Maury answers telephone callers with a less than cheery, “This isn’t TOYS FOR TOTS.” The growly greetings, though highly amusing, backfire when the caller turns out to be just some poor guy in need of a latte and a roast beef on wheat.
“Man,” Maury tells me when I drop in for a double Americano, “four more weeks of this.”
Sure enough, two minutes after my arrival, the telephone blares. “You answer it,” says Maury.
“Hullooo,” I yell melodiously into the blower.
“Is this Toys for Tots?” comes a distant voice.
Too weird. According to the caffeine-pushing siblings, the incessant ring-a-linging starts up after Thanksgiving and jangles along until Christmas. Which follows exactly the Toys for Tots promotional campaign.
The U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, the beloved annual toy drive and distribution sponsors, rely on the media to get the word out. Needy families are told they can get on the list for free toys by dialing 455-5283.
The Java City number is 455-5282.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Yeah, Clark, the numbers are close. But can so many rubes make the same mistake?”
Look how many voted for Clinton.
But I digress. There’s a bigger element here: Frustration.
My curiosity piqued, I tried to reach the Toys for Tots hot line. And tried. And tried….
I dialed the 455-5283 number and then hit redial more than 100 times without success. Busy every time.
Could it be that others unable to bust through the wall of busy signals try the next nearest digit in hopes of reaching an alternate Toys for Tots line?
Cornelius Medley, a Marine gunnery sergeant who works with the toy drive, thinks that’s precisely the case.
The demand for toys is staggering. Last year, Medley says, nearly 4,000 people got through.
Many others, unfortunately, did not. Filling all the needs is as difficult as “trying to catch that fly in the house,” he adds.
The problem isn’t a lack of telephone lines. Although there is only one number, calls coming in automatically fork off to four receptionists.
The problem, says Medley, is getting enough volunteers to man the telephones or handle additional telephone lines.
The brothers Moe and Joe don’t blame the Toys for Tots program. They see it as a fine cause that obviously needs more donations and help than it’s getting.
The Nollettes don’t want to change their number, either. They already shelled out 400 bucks extra to get a cool one that spells 455-JAVA.
Here’s a plan: Give the brothers a barrel of Barbies and Power Rangers and make Java City an official Toys for Tots distribution center.
“We’d need about 50 toys a day,” says Maury.
“Bah-humbug,” says Joe.