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The 61-year-old Toys for Tots program is not just about giving stuffed animals to toddlers at Christmas.
The organization, which has operated in Utah for more than three of its six decades, also caters to needy families with children ages 12 to 16, too. That is the demographic least likely to get a gift, said 1st Sgt. Seth M. Cole, a Marine who coordinates the Toys for Tots program in the Salt Lake County area.
"There's not [usually] a whole lot for teens," he said.
The Toys for Tots program collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December and distributes them as Christmas gifts to needy children in communities across the country, according to the program's Web site.
Cole suggested people planning to donate to Toys for Tots this year think about gifts for younger and older children. Older children and teens could be given athletic equipment, skateboards, compact discs and compact disc players, he suggested.
The Salvation Army, which helps the Marines, began taking applications for this year's Toys for Tots and Angel Tree program the first week of October. The application helps determine the needs of each family.
More than 2,000 Salt Lake City families already have qualified for the program, the limit in the area, Salvation Army Maj. Richard Green said.
Last year, roughly 20,000 Utah kids received gifts through the Toys for Tots program, Cole said. He expected to distribute to that many children again this year, if not more.
Greene said applications for the program were up 30 percent this year compared with the same time last year.
"The application total exceeded what we did last year," Greene said. "At this point, I would say the need is greater."
To qualify for Toys for Tots, a family must be receiving federal or state assistance, such as food stamps or reduced-cost school lunches, Greene said. Extenuating circumstances also are taken into account.
More than 100 businesses in Salt Lake County are designated as drop-off points where Utahns can take gifts that will be distributed by the Marines to needy families.
Participating businesses include Toys R Us stores, Walmarts and Spring Mobile locations.
Several dozen more businesses will be drop-off spots by December. Most malls will also have drop boxes, Cole said. "Each year is a success," he said.
It is best to drop off gifts at collection sites by Dec. 20 to make sure they can be picked up and distributed before Christmas, Cole said. Gifts left in collection boxes on Christmas Eve are too late.
Those late toys and other items are donated to the Marine Corps League or are inventoried and kept for next Christmas, he said.
To donate, place a new, unwrapped toy in a collection bin at participating businesses. You can also donate money toward the purchase of a toy online at http://www.toysfortots.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.toysfortots.org. To request a toy for a child go to the Web site, locate the coordinator in your area and send an e-mail that includes a mailing address, phone and fax number. Here's where to donate to Toys for Tots in your neighborhood: