Parents and kids of all ages flooded the Toys for Tots warehouse in Gaithersburg at a free-for-all event Monday after the organization collected almost three times as many toys this year as last year.
Paul Gunther, who manages Toys for Tots’ Montgomery County efforts, said the organization received 36,000 items last year, but got an overwhelming response this year: almost 100,000 toys.
The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots’ two-year-old Montgomery County program has been donating toys, collected at its Gaithersburg warehouse, to nonprofit organizations around the county, like A Wider Circle and Interfaith Works. But after their needs were fulfilled, thousands of toys were left over this year.
Bill Grein, spokesman for the nationwide Toys for Tots program, said it’s “not normal” to have a surplus of toys.
“In 22 years, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” he said.
The Toys for Tots Montgomery County chapter works out of a donated warehouse at 8633 Grovemont Circle. The group must have all toys out of the warehouse by Jan. 1, Gunther said. To move them out quickly, Gunther decided to open the warehouse to the general public.
Visitors who wanted to pick up toys had to show photo identification, proof of county residence and a birth certificate for each child. By 2:15 p.m. Monday, the warehouse was empty, with about 508 kids picking up about 2,500 toys.
Grein said the organization would have preferred for the surplus toys to be donated to families in another county or a nonprofit struggling to meet demand for toys.
Gunther and a small contingent of volunteer staff opened up the warehouse to the public Monday morning, allowing kids to take home as many toys as they could carry. Boxes and makeshift tables held Play-Doh sets, puzzles, books, dolls, toy trucks and crafting kits.
Gunther had planned to close the doors at noon, but with a line still winding out the door, he decided to continue letting families in. Kids ran around the boxes, picking up toys and browsing books while volunteers helped parents pick out gifts.
“It puts a smile on my face,” Gunther said.
John Jordan came to volunteer at the warehouse with his son and grandson, who live in Montgomery County. As a volunteer, he was tasked with helping parents pick toys. Legos always are popular, he said, but parents wanted memory games for their children, too.
“Something to challenge their minds a little,” he said.
Two parents from Rockville waited nearby as their two kids picked out their favorite toys. Trains are on their Christmas list this year, they said.
Germantown resident Gerri Wright had been volunteering for several days by the time the warehouse was opened to the public.
The group filled and emptied the warehouse at least four times the past few days, collecting and distributing toys to nonprofit organizations.
The shelf labeled “Barbies” was empty by the end of the morning. Puzzles, books and board games were less popular.
Toys for Tots is seeking more drivers and a permanent warehouse for its Montgomery County operations, Gunther said. Its current location was donated as a temporary home, where the group only pays a gas bill. Next year, it hopes to get more volunteers involved.
“There are a lot of families in need in the county,” he said.
Grein and Gunther weren’t sure what might be behind the surplus of donations in the county. Law enforcement officials helped Toys for Tots collect donations along Route 200 in December. Grein said the organization will not have a tally of donations received nationally until after Jan. 1.