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Toys for Tots in need
Gift drive behind for this Christmas; campaign to last one more week
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Gainesville State College president Martha Nesbitt talks with Hall County legislators Friday about the "desperate need" for more space on campus.

Dawn Koponen aims for 1,200 Hall County children to awake on Christmas morning to discover that Santa came - and left presents.

As the United Way of Hall County coordinator for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program, Koponen has organized the toy drive for the past five years, and said the program's donations this year are behind what they were at this time last year.

"I think the whole economy in general makes it difficult for people to give," Koponen said, adding that gouging gas prices may leave many who typically donate with a little less extra money for charities this holiday season.

"It's very important, because we want to make sure that every child has at least one toy underneath the tree on Christmas morning," Koponen said. "And for most of the families that we're serving, that might not be a reality without this program."

The Toys for Tots program will accept toys for boys and girls ranging in age from birth to 15 years old for one more week at the United Way of Hall County.

Koponen said new unwrapped toys can be dropped off at the United Way building on Oak Street. Although there are 45 toy drop-off locations throughout the county, she said the campaign runs most efficiently if toys are brought to the Oak Street building.

Koponen said the program needs donated toys for all ages, but emphasized that toys for children aged 1 to 3 years old are strongly needed, as well as toys for kids between 12 and 16 years old.

She suggested that sports equipment and portable CD players make good gifts for teenagers.

Monetary donations can also be given to benefit disadvantaged Hall County children. Koponen said the monetary gifts are tax deductible, and will allow organizers to shop for age-appropriate toys needed for specific families.

The United Way of Hall County is coordinating the local Toys for Tots program, and plans to serve 427 families with approximately 1,200 children living in Hall County this Christmas, Koponen said. Ideally, each child will receive at least one major toy costing between $10 and $20, and a stocking stuffer present such as a coloring book and crayons, she said.

Koponen said it takes about 50 volunteers to collect, sort and bag the hundreds of donated toys. She added that Hayes Chrysler and Adams Transport are two local companies that have been instrumental in transporting the toys from drop-off locations to the storage warehouse since the toy drive began on Nov. 1.

"The Hall County community is extremely generous," Koponen said. "We put out the call and they respond. It's really awesome."

This year marks the seventh year United Way of Hall County has organized the local Toys for Tots campaign.

"To know that you've made a difference for a child, especially on Christmas morning, it doesn't get much better than that," Koponen said.