American Rescue Workers in need of children’s toys


Approximately 385 local children may not be having Christmas this year.

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which is locally distributed throughout Lycoming County by the American Rescue Workers, is short for toy donations with less than two weeks until Christmas.

“It is unusual for us to not have enough toys at this time of the year,” said Valerie Fessler, community engagement and development officer of the American Rescue Workers. “I spoke to my boss; she’s been working here 38 years. This is the first time since the mid-80s that we have not had enough toys this time of year.”

The organization starts distributing toys on Thursday so that families can give them out to children on Christmas morning. Fessler asked for new, unwrapped toys to be donated.

“Because we’re giving these gifts to the parents of the children, we want them to have the ability to wrap them, have the experience of getting the gifts for their children and putting them under the tree,” Fessler said. “Having them unwrapped is also so that we know what they are and can give gifts to the right children.”

The children who receive the gifts may not know their family signed up for Toys for Tots, so the gifts must be new for families to receive presents as if they were getting new gifts themselves.

“We had 650 families sign up with an expectation we would be giving gifts to 1,200 children,” Fessler said.

They aim to give each child approximately 15 items, including winter clothes and presents the families listed when they signed up.

“We have 385 bags left to fill, so that’s 385 children who still need toys put together,” Fessler said. “According to our math, we need about 4,500 toys.”

The sooner toys are received, the sooner they can be distributed to the families in order for the children to have gifts on Christmas morning.

“We’re really counting on people who could make that happen for us,” she said.

Fessler said donations can be made in the Toys for Tots boxs located in any local grocery store.

“They can drop it off at any of the eight American Rescue Workers thrift stores or at the main location of 643 Elmira St. in Williamsport,” she said.

While it is a national program, these children in need are in the local community.

“I think that it’s important for people to know that the people we are serving here in Lycoming County are their friends, families and neighbors. They’re people who are working hard to take care of their families,” Fessler said.

She said that sometimes there is a false assumption that anyone who receives services are lazy.

“It’s just the opposite. They’re taking care of their families and their children and are working hard to make their situation better,” she said. “The people we serve … these are people you know, they’re in your neighborhood, and they need your help.”

Even if donations don’t make it in time for distribution, rescue workers continue to collect for next year. Although distribution starts on Thursday, it will continue until Christmas, and all donations are appreciated.

The significant difference in donations this year may be because people has less to give, Fessler surmised.

“It’s very possible that this holiday season, people are having a hard time taking care of their own families for Christmas. We’ve seen a shift in the homeless population in Lycoming County from people who are poor to the working poor, to the working class,” she said. “People who were able to make ends meet before or were able to make rent are just no longer able to do so.”

She said it was also a hard year for many people.

“Some of those donations that were coming in, those people need those gifts for their own families. That’s the reality,” she said. “Certainly there’s a lot of national crises this year that we can’t discount … I think times are tough for a lot of people.”

American Rescue Workers was founded in 1884 and is a non-profit religion organization that operates as a branch of the evangelical Christian church.