As he opened the door to the storage room for the Lee County area Toys for Tots collection, all he saw was a mess. Toys were broken and smashed, boxes were torn into and several items he had seen just days before were missing.
“I don’t remember any damage when we were taking stuff out there,” said Cuff, the local area organizer for Toys for Tots. “I do know that somebody just took it upon themselves. It’s not like I had unmarked toys just laying in a corner. Somebody just decided to go through it.”
More than $3,000 of estimated damage was done to the collection of sports balls, kids’ books, children’s toys and more at the warehouse on Wicker Street where Cuff and the Sanford Detachment of the League have been storing Christmas gifts for kids from low-income families.
Toys for Tots is a program of the U.S. Reserve, based out of Washington, D.C., which distributes new toys to “less fortunate” children at Christmas. The League in Sanford began collecting toys at almost 50 locations throughout the county in late October.
Cuff said basketballs, soccer balls and footballs and anything with batteries and electronics were taken. Many of the other toys and boxes were damaged. Some toys were scattered around the main floor of the warehouse, owned by Simpson Construction Company.
“We’ve been storing here for eight years and we’ve never had a problem,” he said. “Every box had been emptied upside down. I walked in here and toys were piled up. Everything they didn’t want, they just commenced to jump on and break it. I can’t use a broken toy. Even if the box is damaged, I can’t use it.”
Since the incident, which occurred in late October, Cuff has been working to clean up the room and try to save the toys he can.
“I have to separate them,” he said. “It puts us behind a little. We always have toys left over. This year is a little slower. We’re just trying to get our stuff back together.”
While some toys are damaged beyond repair, some boxes and toys were only slightly damaged. Toys for Tots’ policy is to only accept new toys. Those toys that are still usable but not in perfect condition are often donated to other organizations, Cuff said.
Toys for Tots collects both toys and money, which goes towards toys. Cuff said all the donations from Lee County stay in Lee County.
“When we get donations, the money that we get around Christmas time, we go ahead and buy toys,” said Helen McCarthy, another member of the League. “Then we store them.”
McCarthy called the events “heartbreaking.” Cuff said he was “a little peeved,” to put it mildly.
Cuff said those interested in supporting Toys for Tots can still donate financially through the organization’s website or drop off toys at locations with donation boxes, which include Southern Lee High School, Temple Theatre and several medical facilities and businesses. The organization plans to give out the gifts a week before Christmas, Cuff said.
His job from now on, he said, is to sort out what’s remaining and continue collecting toys. They try to give multiple gifts to each child, but if they only have to give one to each, he said, they will. It’s all about the kids.
“Right now, I’ve got to see what we have left,” he said. “We’ll still have a campaign. We try to bring back the spirit of Christmas. (What happened is) a small setback.”
To donate money or contact the Sanford Toys for Tots organization, please visit their website.
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