The deadline is fast approaching for local families to register their children for the annual Toys for Tots campaign sponsored by the United States Marine Corps. Sgt. Jonathan Bennett with the local reserve unit, 4th Combat Engineering Battalion-Delta Company, is this year’s coordinator.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has tossed a few monkey wrenches in the annual drive to provide Christmas presents to area children, Bennett said the Marines are going full swing.
“Families wanting to apply for toys have until this Friday, Nov. 20, to do so,” Bennett said. He added that he extended the deadline an extra week, but has to have a hard cut-off date in order to have time to approve all the applicants and to see what gaps need to be filled in the donated toys using monetary donations.
Right now, Bennett said they have 4,300 children on their list and expect another 300 to 400 to be signed up by the deadline. He said they are thus far running short on donations in 2020.
A native of Mississippi, Bennett, 37, has been with the reserve unit in Knoxville for three years. He was the 2019 assistant coordinator of the Toys for Tots drive, and moved up to coordinator this year, just in time for a pandemic.
“We haven’t been able to do any of our normal fund raisers this year, not as many businesses signed up to be dropsites,” Bennett said, adding that he also was not able to get a donated warehouse space for the toys and had to rent one.
“The toy drive starts on Oct. 1 every year, and, no, we don’t have room on base (Alcoa Highway) to collect and house them throughout the year,” Bennett said. “But people can make monetary donations at any time.”
The drive collects new, unwrapped toys for children ages infant to 14. And toys are the only thing collected and distributed.
Though they did have a reduction in dropsites this year, Bennett said many local businesses are still participating, a list of which can be found on their website.
“We’ll start picking up from collection boxes from Dec. 3-5, and the distribution will happen from Dec. 14-17,” Bennett said. He added that he’s “flexible,” and will make arrangements to meet up with anyone to pick up donations.
Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent