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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Toys for Tots in North Idaho working to overcome loss of top donor, Toys R Us

Every table in the Coeur d’Alene Marine Toys for Tots warehouse is piled high with dolls, puzzles, cars and stuffed animals.

It’s a bounty that will help lower-income families celebrate Christmas this year, but it’s still less than other recent years as a result of the loss of the group’s top supporter.

A community organizer for the group, Anita Parisot, said monetary donations to the organization are up, but after its main toy supplier and donor, Toys R Us, closed its last store this summer, the money won’t have the same purchasing power.

She said the nonprofit usually runs low on toys in the 10-to 12-year age group, but this is the first year Toys for Tots has run low on toys for younger children. She said the number of families applying to receive gifts from the organization, is about the same as it was last year, but the source and quantity of toys the organization is going through has changed.

Families must be military or low-income to receive gifts.

Parisot said Toys R Us previously donated hundreds of dollars in gift cards, offered half-off discounts and notified the group about sales which allowed them to quickly fill in any age-group gaps in their toy supply.

“I could go in and spend $10,000 at Toys R Us and probably fill up this warehouse,” she said. “That same money’s not going to go as far at a Walmart or a Target because they don’t give us the same discounts.”

She said local businesses like Figpickels Toy Emporium in downtown Coeur d’Alene have stepped up to fill in some of the gap by donating and offering discounts on dozens of boxes of toys, but she will still need to purchase toys to make sure they have enough inventory to make it through the holiday season.

Mike Kostar, the volunteer in charge of receiving and distributing toys, said the volume of toys is down, but the toys they are receiving are higher quality. He said many of the donated toys, especially from Figpickels, are unique and educational and include more science, technology, engineering and research components. He said many of the STEM toys coming into the warehouse are things he has never seen before and wishes he could open to figure out how they work himself.

Parisot said when buying toys or asking for donations, she tries to find items that will help families close the opportunity gap and help children engage with each other and their parents instead of with a screen.

“What we’re really trying to do is close that gap,” she said, “so when they grow up, they don’t need Toys for Tots.”

Last year Toys for Tots Coeur d’Alene gave 11,229 toys to 1,932 children. The year before, it gave 10,704 toys to 1,959 children. Toys for Tots also partners with local nonprofit Books for Tots to include age-appropriate books for every child. Linda Rohlinger, founder of Books for Tots, said she gives more than 10,000 books a year to Toys for Tots so every child can have at least one book for Christmas.

Toys for Tots Spokane coordinator Sgt. Timothy Klimek said the Spokane Toys for Tots program hasn’t experienced the same issues rebuilding its toy inventory and has received thousands of toy donations from the community. He said the toys they usually go through the fastest are baby and toddler toys, as well as books, but they have had more than enough monetary and toy donations to meet their needs. He said the Spokane chapter received around 6,000 requests from families this season and has been able to process about 4,000 so far and will likely give out more than 100,000 toys.

He said local businesses and community members have hosted events, such as the Teddy Bear Toss at the Spokane Chiefs game Saturday, which has reduced the number of toys the organization has to purchase at local stores. Klimek said the Spokane organization has kept up with the number of requests so far, but the need isn’t going away and it still needs donations to carry it through the season.

“If I have an abundance, I’ll just give away more to kids,” he said. “We’re not going to let the toys go to waste.”

The Spokane Toys for Tots will be accepting applications for toys until Friday and donations and will stop accepting donations Dec. 17. The last day for families to apply for Toys for Tots in Coeur d’Alene is Saturday.