Times Bulletin News Writer

For the first time, the Salvation Army is helping to facilitate the Toys for Tots program this year. The Salvation Army collected names and verified families for the program and they will organize the distribution of the toys. This work used to be done by the Community Action Committee but the group was disbanded this summer.

The Salvation Army will be combining the toy distribution with baskets of non-perishable food items. This will be the first year toy and food gifts are combined and organizers hope it will make the process simpler.

This first year of combining Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army has been successful so far. The deadline for families to sign up for the program was earlier this week and the Salvation Army had 289 names on the list. Community members are also getting involved in large numbers to donate to the program.

"Every gift tag we had available has been taken. In my 25 years of experience, that is the first time that has happened," Salvation Army Major Judy Barter said. "The community and companies have been really involved and some have come in and asked for a large number of tags. It's been really great."

In addition to Toys for Tots and food gifts, the Salvation Army signs children up for the Shop with a Cop program. Most years, about 100 children are able to participate in the program. This year, thanks to additional donations, 140 children will participate. The Salvation Army tries to make sure different children get a chance to participate each year.

A great amount of time and effort goes into planning for holiday programs. While donation boxes are a relatively new appearance around town, the planning began months ago.

"We started getting things ready for Christmas in July," Barter said. "It is a huge responsibility to bring everything together and to pick who will do Shop with a Cop. We try to have different kids get that opportunity every year."

The Salvation Army scheduled distributions for Dec. 20 and 21. Toys can be donated at Rural King, Big Lots, Dollar General, Tractor Supply Company, E & R Trailer, Walmart and Lee Kinstle GM Sales & Service. Cash donations can be made at Orchard Tree Restaurant, Brookside Drive-Thru and Van Wert Party Mart.