Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER
With the economic downturn claiming jobs daily, toys and gifts are taking a back seat to necessities like housing and food for many families this year.
That's why charitable events are seeing a surge in the number of parents seeking holiday help -- even as donations are down.
You can hear the need in the form of more calls to the hot line for the city's largest one-day toy giveaway, said Diane Halverson, executive director of The Children's Christmas Party of Jacksonville.
"The most common phrase I hear is, 'I just want my kids to have some kind of Christmas,' " she said.
Halverson expects about 10,000 children Dec. 13 at the annual event at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, up from about 8,500 last year. That has her a little nervous in light of the reduced donations.
It's a common refrain. Clay County's biggest holiday event sent out a desperate plea Tuesday for donations to its toy drive. The 27th annual event will be Dec. 20.
With donors stretched thin, some organizers are struggling just to make sure that there will be enough to go around for children in need.
At Safehouse of Jacksonville on the Westside, Pastor Gary Howell has about 500 pieces donated for the year but is expecting far more than last year's crowd of 1,000 children. The Saturday party, the first in the city, has never had to turn anyone away, he said.
He's worried this year could be different.
"Even our food pantry's tripled up," he said. "A lot of parents can't afford a Christmas."
At Toys for Tots, sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, local organizers are concerned they might have to cut off registration earlier than previously thought. More than 3,500 families have registered this year, compared with about 2,500 all of last year, said Staff Sgt. John Kapolczynski.
"We want to make sure that the people we have already registered, that we have enough to go around."
They will probably need to cap the number of registered families at about 4,500, he said.
Donations are coming in at the same rate as last year, Kapolczynski said, but the need is outstripping what's available. With a small staff, the organization is in need of both toys and volunteers.
deirdre.conner@jacksonville. com (904) 359-4504
ORGANIZATIONS IN NEED OF DONATIONS
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