Season for Giving: Toys for Tots

Courtesy photo

After a tumultuous year of Harvey recovery, its effects are still being felt throughout the community, not only as families and businesses rebuild, but also in the lack of charitable donations that are usually forthcoming from the generous Southeast Texas community.

One organization that relies on the generosity of others is the local nonprofit Toys for Tots, headed by former marine Michael Ochs, his wife, Tammy, and their three daughters, Joy, Stacie and Rita. Typically serving up to 1,500 children in need in Jefferson and Orange counties, this year the request for holiday assistance is high, while donations, unfortunately, are falling well short of the demand.

On Nov. 26 at noon, Southeast Texas Toys for Tots opened their online application for assistance. Shortly after 1 p.m., the local chapter had hit its anticipated limit of the children it could foreseeably assist this season. Assistant Coordinator Rita Ochs credited the number of requests received to their social media presence, which allowed them to disseminate information to prospective applicants.

“This is the first year that we had to close it down so fast,” she said. “It’s usually three to four days that we have it available. This is also the first time we had a Facebook page all year long, so we were able to get a lot of publicity.”

To help promote the application opening, Southeast Texas Toys for Tots created a Facebook event. Once the application limit had been reached, however, the event page served as an outlet for potential applicants to vent their frustrations.

One such individual wrote, “This is unbelievable! Very cruel joke, or very unorganized and uninformative event.”

“Is this a joke? People have been trying to access the application all day.. it was suppose (sic) to have been opened at 12 noon today but not one person has been able to access it that Iv (sic) seen,” another wrote.

To some users, it may have seemed no one was able to access the application, however the opposite was occurring as the number of applicants quickly soared and prevented access to others wishing to fill out the online form. Ochs said the community response for need was overwhelming and she understands the frustrations the quick cut-off of application availability created.

“We accept applications on what we know we can reasonably fill,” she said. “We had to cut it off because we didn’t want to take applications for assistance when we wouldn’t be able to assist them. The last thing we want to do is over-commit and let down a family.

“There are many factors that go into play (for the number of applications accepted), like family size. We also assist CPS (Child Protective Services) — we help the children that are in foster care in Orange and Jefferson County. It’s approximately 1,500 children we help every year.”

What it all comes down to, she says, is donations. “We get donations from local businesses, individuals, organizations, such as a local construction company. It’s all locally done.

“Hurricane Harvey, that hit us hard. There’s not a big response of donations. We were able to receive a supplemental package from the foundation headquarters in Quantico, Va. It was 70 cases of generic toys. It was to help get us going because of the disaster, but our typical community donations declined because of everyone recovering from Harvey.”

Ochs said, though they have closed the application for assistance, they are hopeful through community generosity they will be able to reopen the application to allow more families to participate in the program.

To successfully reopen the online application, Ochs said they will need Southeast Texas businesses and individuals to come to their aid, so they in turn can aid others. There are currently a number of drop off locations and toy drives scheduled, which they hope Southeast Texans will participate in making a success for families in need.

“Everything we do is made possible through donation. Southeast Texas Toys for Tots, we’re strictly run by family, it’s completely 100 percent nonprofit. Everything we get goes straight to those who need it. We can always use help with providing toys, collection box locations, fundraisers in locally-owned business, toy donations, assisting with distribution.”

According to information from the nonprofit, “The local Toys for Tots team works very hard to make Toys for Tots a success, but we could never do it without the help of concerned citizens, local organizations and businesses who support our mission in a number of areas, including: providing toy collections sites, assisting in the transportation and storage of toys, helping to promote Toys for Tots in the media, underwriting special events, providing a product or service suitable for raffling, and assisting with such critical services as printing.”

Toys for Tots operates as a nonprofit and though it has the needs of a typical business, it does not have the budget. To donate or assist Southeast Texas Toys for Tots this holiday season, e-mail setxtoysfortots [at] gmail [dot] com.