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Toys For Tots bins mostly empty

For the first year in many Port Orchard shopkeepers’ memories, the Toys For Tots donation bins set out in local stores remain embarrassingly empty.

Many merchants who offered to display the bins at the beginning of the month talk about the lack of donations in hushed, almost shamed voices, as if they are somehow responsible for the lack of public support.

Others admit to the bareness in loud voices, perhaps hoping to inspire guilt in nearby shoppers and inspire them to help fill the barrels.

Regardless, it seems likely that when the donation bins are collected tomorrow, many stores are going to be turning in few or no toys.

“The ones I’ve looked in are pretty empty,” said Phil McCormick, who is organizing the drive. “Last year, mine filled up pretty good.”

This is one of the few times downtown merchants have hosted the bins, which Toys For Tots representatives said may be part of the problem. Toys For Tots spokesman Robin Hallock pointed out that the six downtown locations — Myhre’s, Harborside Bar and Grill, Rewind Coffee, Olde Central Antique Mall, Lucent Cellular and Custom Picture Framers — are out of the regular stream of shopping traffic.

He said when the bins were set up in South Kitsap Mall, they tended to get plenty of donations, probably because people were already doing their shopping and found it easy to just buy something extra for the bins.

Patti Rylander, assistant manager at Myhre’s, agrees with that assessment.

“There isn’t a lot of shopping that goes on in downtown Port Orchard,” she said. “There’s especially not a lot of toy shopping.”

Rylander, who has been co-owner of Myhre’s for just over a year, said it was the same story with the bin last year, too. She said last year they had it right out front by the cash register, but employees worried that it might be too easy to steal sitting right by the door.

This year, Rylander has it sitting by a lighted Christmas tree a little ways off the entrance.

“We’re always more than happy to have it there,” she said. “We think it’s a very worthy cause.”

Rylander added that the restaurant employees usually put some toys in at the last minute, regardless of how many donation they have received.

One business in Port Orchard, at least, has no complaints about the state of its Toys For Tots barrel. Westbay Auto Parts, on Mile Hill Drive, has received nearly as many toys this year as it has in past years — approximately 100 donations, by employee estimates.

“We do it every year, so people are used to it,” said general manager Dave King. “We get a lot of traffic through here.”

Westbay has hosted a donation bin for the past seven-odd years. This year, employees said, the toy count may be down slightly, but nothing significant.

“I would’ve thought with all the problems that have happened there’d be more things out there, but you never know,” said operations manager Ken Price.

The bins will be collected Dec. 13 in preparation for the distribution party on Saturday. The party, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kitsap County Pavilion, will give the toys to local children from newborn to about 13 years of age.

Hallock said, on the whole, the organization has been doing just as well as in previous years. The only areas in which the charity is lacking is toys for two age groups: ages 0 to 2 and ages 11 and up. Hallock said Toys For Tots runs low in those areas every year because those are the two age levels people feel least comfortable buying for.

“You don’t really know what to get older kids unless they’re yours,” he said.

Toys For Tots, which is run locally by the Marine Corps League, collects approximately 6,000 toys a year for needy children.

For more information about toy donation, call: 360-551-5394.

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