Update 12/18: The Berkeley Police Association has closed its fundraising campaign because it more than exceeded its goals. The drive for Toys for Tots garnered $11,114 from 193 people in one day.
Update, 8:15 p.m. The Berkeley Police Association has set up a GoFundMe account to collect online donations for the Toys for Tots program.
Original post, 3:59 p.m. The Berkeley Police Department is asking for help after expected holiday toy donations for hundreds of Berkeley families fell through today.
Police Chief Michael Meehan said 300 Berkeley families — many of whom have more than one child — have signed up for the popular program, and will be at the station Saturday morning to pick up their toys.
But an expected and longstanding donation of thousands of toys from the U.S. Marine Corps will not be available, the police department learned Wednesday. In the past, the program — a collaboration between the Berkeley Police and Fire departments and the Marine Corps — has given away approximately 3,000 toys to families each year.
Meehan said the Marine Corps will only be able to provide 200 stuffed animals this year, which won’t be enough to meet the need. In the past, families received an entire bag full of toys thanks to generous support from the Marine Corps and community contributions.
The department had planned to pick up donations Friday from the Marine Corps, but learned today it will be a much smaller pick-up than officers expected.
The department is asking the community for help to fill the gap. Donations of new, unwrapped toys can be dropped off at the department at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Way daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Friday, Dec. 18.
Meehan said the department, internally, is also “passing the hat.”
“We are going to generate as much cash as we can, and reach out to some stores, and literally just go shopping for these kids,” he said. “We’re not going to let them down.”
The department is also trying to figure out how to accept monetary donations, and Berkeleyside will update this post if that becomes an option. [Update, 6:40 p.m. The chief says toys may also be sent to the department through Amazon.com, for those looking for an online option. The deadline for receipt is Friday at 4:30 p.m.]
Sgt. Rob Rittenhouse, who has overseen the program for the past four years, says it has been going on for more than a decade and that the department is among the largest distributors of toys for the program in Alameda County.
Last year, donations from the Marine Corps were also short — though not by as much — but the Berkeley Police Association was able to raise about $2,000 and work with Toys R Us to make up the difference.
“This year, it’s short again,” Rittenhouse said. “Any donations we can get … would be greatly appreciated.”
He said the department’s command staff and police association have stepped up this year with generous donations, and that the program could not have happened without that support.
Rittenhouse said one option for donors who prefer to give cash would be to buy gift cards with a suggested value of $20. Those can be particularly good giveaways for teens, he noted, who can be tough to shop for.
Rittenhouse said the program makes “a huge difference” for families in need. They come to the department and walk through the toy selection to “shop” with volunteers.
“Just to see the gratitude and the look on their face as we’re going through the process, it seems like it has a huge impact,” he said. “It’s really gratifying.”
He said 50-60 volunteers help with the Friday toy pick-up and the event Saturday to make the giveaway happen.
“The goal of the program is to deliver a message of hope to youngsters whose families are in need and to support each of them in becoming responsible, productive community members and future leaders,” according to a statement released earlier this month by the department.
Families who wished to participate in the program were required to sign up in advance and provide proof of residency in Berkeley. Registration for the program closed Sunday.
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