BY KATE MILEWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY —
Area businesses more accustomed to dealing in toys for grown-ups joined sides to bring joy to needy kids this holiday season.
Bill Marsh and Fox Motors again are driving forces behind the Toys for Tots campaign that kicks off Saturday at Great Wolf Lodge.
"We are asking people to bring new, unwrapped presents that can be distributed through nearly every human service agency that works in our five-county area," said Mike Kent, Bill Marsh marketing director and Toys for Tots board member.
The campaign distributed more than 25,000 toys to 8,000 kids last year, but likely will need more help than ever this time around. Final numbers aren't in yet, but it looks like more kids will need their help for a good Christmas this year.
Kent expects the community to come through, as it has for the last 15 years he's been involved with the organization.
He became involved in the campaign because his wife worked with one of the many agencies that now coordinate gifts for needy children in Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Kalkaska and Antrim counties.
The Toys program didn't exist, so Kent and a few other community members quickly put a campaign together to meet the goal of giving every child on their list three toys.
They've seen results of the campaign in the people they help. One woman, Kent recalled, appeared at an event with a van loaded with hundreds of dollars worth of toys because, a few years before, she need help from Toys for Tots.
"She had tears coming from her eyes and I turned to the other volunteers and said 'That's why we do it,'" he said.
Community residents seem to recognize the importance of that impact, and despite tough economic times over the past several, donated a record amount of gifts during the 2011 season.
"The public is very receptive," he said. "I've dealt with the community a lot with my job at Bill Marsh. When we go out to the community and say 'here's a need,' the community has always responded. We are still a neighborhood community where people look out for each other."