PARIS – The lack of someone to set up collection boxes for Toys for Tots this year may mean needy families in Oxford County will not get as much help this Christmas, an organizer said this week.

“We try to help as many people as we can,” said Sgt. Craig Harriman, an eight-year active duty Marine who heads the program for a number of counties, including Androscoggin and Oxford. However, this year, some counties such as Oxford have no coordinator to oversee the the toy collection and distribution, and organize fundraisers to buy toys, he said.

The Toys for Tots Foundation, a nonprofit public charity organized by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, provides toys to needy families at Christmas. The Maine program is operated by Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines in Topsham. Those Marines work with local Toys for Tots coordinators statewide to ensure maximum distribution of toys throughout the state. The reserve unit also acts as the program coordinator for the delivery and collection of boxes for toy donations in Oxford, Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec and Sagadahoc counties.

Harriman said the donations to the program will only serve a limited number of needy children in Oxford County, but he hopes whatever is left from other areas will be redistributed here and elsewhere.

“We want to help no matter what,” Harriman said.

Peggy Turner gave out more than 1,500 toys – 800 of them from Toys for Tots – last year in Oxford County through her Families in Crisis Task Force, she said.

When she received notice from the Marines this week that Toys for Tots may not be able to provide toys this year, she said it was a surprise because she didn’t know a coordinator was needed.

Turner said she normally would go to a warehouse in Topsham in December to pick up the toys she needed to fill wish lists from families.

“We’ve done it for 10 years now,” Turner said of the group’s efforts to keep a list of everyone who calls asking for help and asking people to donate toys to the program.

“This year will be a struggle,” she admitted.

To make up for the unexpected loss, she has contacted large businesses such as Wal-Mart and New Balance shoe company to get help.

She is also holding a Christmas Fair on Saturday, Nov. 29, raise money to buy toys for children. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Oxford Advent Christian Church on Route 26 in Oxford.

People may also bring donations of toys and money to Family Counseling Services at 659 Park St. (Route 26) in South Paris from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. There is a marked box in the waiting room, Turner said.

And anyone who would like to donate toys or money may call Turner at 207-357-7072.

Turner said her organization will do what it takes to get the program back on track next year, and will scramble now to come up with toys for hundreds of needy children this season.

“Whatever they need us to do, we’ll do that next year. We’ll be back on track,” Turner said.

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