Holiday toy donations coming in slowly

  • Firefighter Tony Niel sorts toy donations for the Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401 Toys for Kids program at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. Currently, the toy drive is behind in toy and cash donations. Their biggest needs are for sports equipment, art supplies, Legos, mp3 players, handheld games, makeup and cash. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa firefighters are calling for the public's help in their annual campaign to put children's toys under the Christmas tree.

"We are in desperate need," firefighter Tony Niel said while sorting donated toys Tuesday in the Hall of Flowers building at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401, which has conducted the Toys for Kids program for nearly 30 years, is up against a bad economy this season, said Niel, the program organizer.

More than 5,000 students from needy families in the Santa Rosa area have requested gifts through their schools, and the program so far has collected about 1,000 toys.

Additional requests are coming in, Niel said.

Cash donations are also sought to buy gifts -- at a discount from local stores -- that match the students' requests, and Niel said the campaign is running far below its $20,000 goal.

"It's the lowest we've been in 10 years," Niel said. "It's tough."

Firefighters are at a booth in the Santa Rosa Plaza from noon to 8 p.m. through Dec. 22, accepting unwrapped gifts and cash donations. Checks should be made out to SR Fire Local 1401.

Collection barrels are in front of every Santa Rosa and Rincon Valley fire station.

All firefighters engaged in the Toys for Kids campaign are volunteering their time at no cost to the city, Niel said.

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