Christmas music echoed throughout the Toys For Tots warehouse on Noble Street Wednesday morning as eight volunteers processed applications and stockpiled colorful toys by age groups for whom they're suitable.
The local Marine Corps League, Allan Ray Chaffin Detachment No. 1329, has been running the charitable effort for years but Pete Jidas, 69, said the aging group needs some new blood.
“We need to change hands. We need to get some younger people involved because we’re getting too old to continue on playing this Superman act,” Jidas said.
Jidas, who was wearing a sling on one arm, said he is the “toy wrangler” of the group.
“All the boxes go across my back going out and all of the toys coming in. I do all that,” said Jidas.
The most youthful of the group is Dave Grise, 65, the assistant coordinator for Toys for Tots.
Grise said that last year 10,828 toys were distributed to over 1,600 children.
“What we need right now is somebody to help in the area of delivering boxes and stuff like that, somebody that can get out and help,” said Grise.
Grise said that 200 large boxes are being delivered to sponsors and businesses in Calhoun, Talladega and St. Clair counties for donations.
Nov. 20 is the deadline for families to apply for assistance from Toys For Tots, but there is no deadline to donate according to Grise.
“We need some help in here. We try to get some younger people and they don’t have to be a Marine to come in here and help us,” Grise said.
Grise said that on Tuesday four teachers visited the warehouse to volunteer their time.
Despite the lack of extra Santas Grise said the payoff is worth it.
“Being able to see a smile on these kids’ faces and the things they do. Even the parents, we’ve had parents stand here and just cry to us saying if it wasn't for us the kids wouldn’t have anything,” Grise said.
“If that don’t touch your heart you don’t have one,” said Grise.
Eli Henderson, 82, Calhoun County Commissioner and a member of the Marine Corps League, said nobody in the organization gets a dime.
“These guys use their own gas, their own vehicles. Everything that we do is donated by all of our Marines and nobody gets paid anything,” said Henderson.
Taylor Flowers from Piedmont was applying for help at the Toys For Tots warehouse to help provide a Christmas for two children, ages 5 and 8, for the second year in a row.
“They’ve always been gracious to me, they’ve been around for quite a while. They’ve always helped me out,” said Flowers.
Toys for Tots is accepting applications for assistance Mondays through Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1810 Noble St., Anniston. Phone is 256-452-5981.
Grise said that monetary donations are down this year but the group will have a roadblock on Nov. 23 at Weaver Road and Lenlock Lane to help raise money to buy toys.
The deadline to apply for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program has already passed, according to Jennifer Graham, the Commanding Officer for the Salvation Army in Anniston.
“Families in the community can adopt families that are less fortunate in order to help us provide Christmas for them,” said Graham.
Once families are selected a paper angel with the particular needs of the children are placed in a Christmas tree in a public place.
Last year 300 children were helped by the program according to Graham.
Graham said the tree had been placed in the Quintard Mall but since the mall is being renovated this year another location will be announced.
Graham said the Salvation Army’s shuttered facility near 5th Street and Noble is being renovated into a new shelter and thrift store which will open once construction is finished.
Graham said the familiar red kettles will once again be a holiday fixture at various locations this year.
Meanwhile, up the road at Interfaith Ministries of Calhoun County, Wednesday was the last day to apply for Christmas Clearing House assistance. Cathy Pitts, president of the executive board of Interfaith Ministries, was helping other volunteers process applications.
“This started 50 years ago. A group of ladies got together in the community from different churches and decided something had to be done to help the needy,” said Pitts.
Unlike Toys For Tots, the clearing house distributes Wal-Mart gift cards that can only be used at the chain’s Lenlock location in Anniston according to Pitts.
Pitts said that 260 families with a “lot of children” were helped last Christmas.
“We have a large donor base we are thankful for,” Pitts said, adding that there are 120 volunteers who make it all happen.
Pitts, a former teacher at Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville, said she loves helping out the applicants.
“They are joyful people. They come in and they are so happy to have a way of being helped in some way,” Pitts said.