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Charities scramble to fill need for toys to close Toys for Tots gap

ptrtoys1122014
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Vic Lisotto of Pine drops off toys at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. The community was depending on Toys for Tots donations, but they didn't come through so the public are making last minute donations.
ptrtoys3122014
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Purdey Featherstone-Williams of Penn Hills organizes last minute toy donations on behalf of Sister Helping Sisters at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. The community was depending on Toys for Tots donations, but they didn't come through so the public are making last minute donations.
ptrtoys1122014
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Vic Lisotto of Pine drops off toys at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. The community was depending on Toys for Tots donations, but they didn't come through so the public are making last minute donations.
ptrtoys3122014
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Purdey Featherstone-Williams of Penn Hills organizes last minute toy donations on behalf of Sister Helping Sisters at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. The community was depending on Toys for Tots donations, but they didn't come through so the public are making last minute donations.

Some Pittsburgh charities scrambled to find gifts for underprivileged children because of an apparent paperwork mistake Friday at Toys for Tots.

But it’s the season for Christmas miracles, and in a scene seemingly pulled straight from the script of the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Western Pennsylvanians heard the call for action and responded.

“I am amazed at what God is doing,” said Sister Theresa Germany of Sisters Helping Sisters nonprofit as she watched vehicles pull up to the Lincoln Park Community Center in Penn Hills, where people unloaded bags and boxes of donated gifts.

“He gave me a fish, and I am feeding everybody. Hallelujah!” Germany shouted. “Oh, God is blessing us. I can’t stop smiling.”

It was a happy ending to what could have been a scene from the script of “Bad Santa.”

Sisters Helping Sisters, The Pittsburgh Project, and possibly other charities applied for gifts through the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, only to learn that the orders were misplaced or somehow not processed.

Sgt. Charles Brashear, who runs the south Allegheny County chapter out of North Versailles, said he and many volunteers were scrambling to get all of the toys ready for pickup for weekend parties.

Standing in a Strip District storage facility filled with workers and boxes of toys, Brashear could not explain what happened.

“I don’t know what went wrong or where it went wrong, but we are looking into it,” he said.

Brashear later issued a statement that said the organization was unable to find any record that the charities in the news had successfully registered on the organization’s computer system. At least one of the charities said they had received email confirmation of registration.

Maj. Brian Murray with the national Toys for Tots Foundation said there were areas struggling to meet the demand.

“When we know a site is struggling, the national foundation assists by purchasing and delivering toys … as we have done for Pittsburgh,” he said.

The problem affected only a few charities in Allegheny County, Brashear said. He called the national office in Virginia and requested an extra truckload of toys, to ensure enough for the children, and vowed that he and his staff would continue working until all orders were delivered.

Earlier in the day, the outlook was not so rosy.

Even some charities whose orders were confirmed were left in a lurch. Nabhi Christian Ministries, whose party is Saturday at Faith Lutheran Church for 300 kids, was told toys would be ready for pickup Thursday, but the order wasn’t ready Friday.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jacque Fielder, Nabhi’s executive director, said — until Brashear called her Friday afternoon to say the toys were ready to go.

Officials with The Pittsburgh Project thanked volunteers who heard about the mishap, bought toys and delivered them to the North Side facility.

Charity workers were careful not to disparage the Toys for Tots program, which has delivered tens of thousands of gifts for years to needy kids.

“They’ve done a lot of great things,” said Joanna Deming, development associate at The Pittsburgh Project, as she watched donated toys roll in.

Back at Lincoln Park Community Center, Brittany Johnson dropped off gifts she bought at Wal-Mart. She spent $680 of her money for a haul that included two bicycles — a red and black one for a boy, and a pink one for a girl.

“We drive a lot of these kids to and from school, so we see the need,” said Johnson, 27, of Penn Hills, who co-owns BME Transit busing company. “It’s Christmas time. We felt bad when we heard. We’re blessed enough, so we wanted to give back. Hopefully, this makes a difference.”

Bertha Crooms, 65, of Wilkinsburg felt the same. Despite icy roadways in the morning, she felt compelled to get out and help.

“Every kid deserves a gift,” she said as she asked for help carrying in several bags of gifts. “See how people step up? Pittsburghers always come through, every time.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or [email protected].

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