7 valley Lions Clubs rally to save toy drive

LIONS CLUBs from around the Grand Valley are working to fill the void left by the usual Toys for Tots drive at Christmastime. From left are Karl Clemons, president of the Grand Junction Lions Club; Garry Blackman, Orchard Mesa Lions Club member; Leroy Winters, Orchard Mesa Lions president; and Linda Cruz, president of the Redlands Lions Club.

Lions plan to roar to the rescue of Christmas this year, taking up where Toys for Tots left off.

The seven Lions Clubs in the Grand Valley got together Monday night to figure out how to fill in as elves with but 55 days to go before the big night.

The interest of the Lions has Sue Tuffin, who heads up the Christmas effort as part of her day job as director of the Mesa County Workforce Center, a bit misty-eyed.

“I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the community response” to the news that Toys for Tots wouldn’t be operating this year in Mesa County, Tuffin said. “They all pulled together to step it up git ‘r done.”

Along with the Lions, business groups, volunteers, high school service groups, ROTC and other organizations are lining up to help.

Last year, Toys for Tots served more than 2,000 families, or about 4,500 children, Tuffin said.

Given the size of the task and limited number of days in which to collect toys, Tuffin said various efforts aimed at filling in for Toys for Tots will be coordinated into a single drive aimed at delivering Christmas just in time.

Then, after it’s all done, an effort to get the Toys for Tots banner waving again in Mesa County for Christmas 2011 will get under way, she said.

As for the Lions, all the clubs had been talking about a project they could tackle together, Orchard Mesa Lion Garry Blackman said.

When they read that the annual Toys for Tots drive wouldn’t run this year, “It was like God just threw this in our laps,” Blackman said.

Blackman and Grand Junction Lions Club President Karl Clemons came up with the idea for a joint project two years ago but hadn’t found the right one, until now.

Though each club is autonomous, Clemons said, the project will bind them together.

“We’re separate,” but on this effort, “we’re united,” Clemons said.

And with 400 members among the seven Grand Valley clubs, “We’ve got the manpower and the troops to do this,” Blackman said.

Greg Merschel, the former Marine who worked with Toys for Tots but said he was no longer able to keep up with the administrative demands, said he wished the effort well.

“Any help or hints they want, I’ll give them,” Merschel said Monday. “I have volunteers, people who have hands-on done it who can help them.”

Filling in for Toys for Tots isn’t just a matter of finding one Christmas gift per child, Merschel said.

Toys for Tots provided at least one main toy per child as well as several small toys and other gifts.

“Each family got a game and a ball” in addition to the toys intended for the youngsters.

“We tried to give a real Christmas,” Merschel said. “It was not like one toy and ‘bye.”

The Lions could help out more by adding such everyday gifts as sweats, socks and hats, even diapers, to the toys, he said.

Hope Unlimited, an organization of the Benevolent Community Partnership, already is seeing plenty of families in need of help for Christmas.

Last year, Hope Unlimited helped 40 families, or about 200 people, and already the organization has the names of 15 families that need help for Christmas, Executive Director Vickie McGee said.

“We figure we’ll have a lot more families that are going to need to be adopted” this year, McGee said.


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