Toys for Tots hopes to brighten teens’ holiday seasons

Kathleen Ambre

Every year, as the holiday season grows closer, a number of toy drives help facilitate to the needs of the less fortunate, one of which is the well-known Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. A foundation built around strong values and a bold mission, Toys for Tots provided toys for 250,000 children within the last year. However, the foundation has struggled to meet the demands of young adults 9 to 18 years of age.

First Sergeant Alfonso Via, a three-year contributor of the program positioned specifically in the Twin Cities, spoke of the foundation’s challenges providing for hundreds of thousands of children: “We think that the demand, the increase in requests, is going to be significantly higher because of the state of the economy,” said Via.

With already a limited number of responses and donated contributions, those involved fear that an already deficient number of replies to teens will falter as the number of teens in need increase. “It will probably be even higher this year. I would estimate 25 percent,” said Via when asked about the inflation of the number of children 9 and up. For the past 6 years, the Toys for Tots Foundation has relied on an awareness program called Toys for Teens, a program created in association with Best Buy to provide overlooked teens with holiday gifts. Starting in December of 2001, Toys for Teens has helped draw attention to the needs of young people but because of a higher demand, additional promotion was needed.

In an attempt to strengthen a weakening cause, Toys for Tots has partnered with Mall of America and Kare 11 for the 2008 holiday season. Mall of America, serving as a drop-off site for toys donated to the foundation over the years, has chosen this year to direct more of their efforts toward the Toys for Teens program: “Mall of America representatives discovered that teens were forgotten when people donated presents to the Toys for Tots program,” said Mall of America’s Public Relations Coordinator Bridget Jewell.

In addition to providing collection sites for the toys, Mall of America and Kare 11 are organizing a fundraiser and competition among schools. Registration was due on October 31 and acceptance was limited to the first 25 schools to apply, participating schools are competing to raise the largest amount of money to purchase gifts for the teen demographic, starting at a minimum of $2,500. When the money is raised, they will shop for gifts at Mall of America.

The top three schools to raise the most money will be recognized for their efforts and given a number of prizes. The top fundraising school will receive a field trip to Mall of America, including up to 5 hours of free rides at Nickelodeon Universe and a movie screening at the Theatres at Mall of America. The winning school will be announced on Kare 11 Friday, December 12, and ten individuals chosen from each school to buy gifts with money raised a few days later with the assistance of Sara Rogers and the Mall of America Trend Board.

With the generous sponsorships of Best Buy, Kare 11, Mall of America, and of course the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, hopefully the needs of a disregarded and growing population of teens will be met this holiday season, requests will be fulfilled, and future success within reach. “Being apart of this program, I think I’ve gotten to see a great deal of those who are in need. And I’ve also seen how the Twin Cities takes care of itself,” said Via.