Toys for Tots wraps up annual campaign benefiting county children

COLLEGE TOWNSHIP More than 750 volunteers donated their time to sort, bag and wrap presents for 1,318 children and grandchildren in Centre County for this year’s annual Toys for Tots campaign. There was also more than 7,400 food items donated.

The drive, which officially began Nov. 14, benefits children that are identified by local food pantries. Each child receives four toys and grandchildren receive two toys. The toys are collected from roughly 300 donation points around Centre County. Food may also be donated, which is distributed to food pantries around the county.

Once the donations are collected, they are sorted by age and gender. After the toys are organized, the wrapping begins on the second floor of the Penn Stater. The wrapping began at 5 p.m. Thursday and was finished by noon Saturday. Whether it be tape or wrapping paper, those items are also donated to the Toys for Tots campaign.

“A question I often ask is, ‘How much wrapping paper does it take to wrap 10-12,000 toys?’” said local community organizer Gene Weller, a retired United States Marine Corps Major. “The best answer I have is, ‘A lot.’”

Weller, who has been the lead organizer of Toys for Tots in Centre County for the past 31 years, said that roughly 200 fewer kids were identified directly by the food pantries this year. He was unsure of the reason behind the drop, but those that were not registered can receive toys and food at the unregistered site at Hills Plaza. That site will be available from Dec. 21 until Dec. 23.

Weller’s longevity has contributed to a process that he said is as well-organized as possible.

“I refer to it as organized chaos because it still gets a little chaotic,” Weller said. “‘I’m running out of toys,’ ‘I need paper,’ ‘I’m running out of tape,’ or whatever. It’s a little exciting.’”

When combining both children and grandchildren, State College identified the most children (465) and was followed by Bellefonte (289), Howard (130), Snow Shoe (119), Philipsburg (114) Penns Valley (104) and Centre Hall (60). The Pennsylvania police distribute items to the foster child program, which included 37 children.