LEWISTON — Beverly Robbins gets upset just thinking about saying it.
"I don't have any toys for you."
It's hard enough telling that to one parent desperate for help at Christmas. She's had to say it to 39.
Robbins, head of the Others Ministry at Hope Haven Gospel Mission, adds a hopeful, "Maybe something will come tomorrow." But nothing does.
With two days left before Christmas, she fears nothing will.
"I've got people coming in constantly now, and I'm having to stop and tell them we don't have anything for them, and it's getting tough," she said. "Some of them are in tears. They're trying not to cry. They're looking like, 'Oh, Lord, what am I going to do now?' Because we've always been able to do it. Last year, we didn't miss a beat. We were great last year."
But last year, Hope Haven received more than $4,000 in cash and donated gifts for its toy drive. This year, it got half that, largely because corporate donations didn't come in as anticipated.
"I thought they would just follow through, because they did last year," Robbins said. "I was wrong."
While donations are down, need is up. Last year, Hope Haven gave toys to about 125 children. This year, its list of needy children topped 200, and it hadn't been able to provide gifts for 61 of those, as of Thursday.
"I was hysterical this morning, in tears," Robbins said.
Hope Haven has posted an emergency plea for donations on its website. Robbins said the toy drive would gladly accept toys, but she worried it would take too long for donors to shop and get the gifts to the mission, so appeals have focused on cash. The toy drive needs at least $1,000.
Robbins' voice quivered as she read from the applications of the 39 families that have asked for help but may not get it. Many are out of work. Several are single mothers. For the first time, several are fathers.
"'I'm all alone and don't make enough for Christmas ... " "10-year-old daughter just had surgery" " ... out of work" "... just moved to the city,'" she read, skimming through the applications. "Yeah, that's what almost all of these are. 'Unemployed ... unemployed.'"
Hope Haven's toy drive began about 17 years ago and serves children 17 and younger. Parents submit wish lists, along with their applications, and the toy drive does its best to fulfill those wishes. Sometimes, the children want clothes. Sometimes, a popular toy. When a wish can't be granted, the mission gives an age-appropriate gift instead.
Although the toy drive is scrambling for gifts for young children, it's in dire need of presents for teenagers. Those items include movie passes, jewelry, makeup, art supplies, craft kits and gift cards, particularly for clothing stores.
Donated gifts or money can be dropped off at the mission at 209 Lincoln St. in Lewiston. Donations can also be made online at www.hopehavengospelmission.org using PayPal.
Volunteers will pick up gifts. To arrange for a pickup, call the mission at 783-6086.
The toy drive has about 48 hours left to find gifts for the 61 children. Robbins plans to make every hour count.
"I will take donations up until midnight on Saturday, so that if necessary people can come in here on Sunday morning and pick up the gift," she said. "I'm not putting a deadline on it. I'm going to try to get as many of these filled as I can."
Christmas gifts for children or cash donations can be dropped off at Hope Haven Gospel Mission, 209 Lincoln St., Lewiston, or made online at www.hopehavengospelmission.org using PayPal. Pickup is available; call 783-6086.