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Toys for Tots getting ready

by Nick Rotunno
| November 13, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - With the holidays near at hand, Kootenai County Toys for Tots is gearing up for another busy season. This year, though, the program has tightened its application policies, hoping to deter misuse of the system and ensure that toys are delivered to the children who need them most.

According to Toys for Tots coordinator Mike Milligan, participants will now have to meet various criteria. Proof of Kootenai County residency, proof of custody and proof of income will all be required, he said.

"The only people that can apply are the custodial parents of children," Milligan explained.

In the past, he added, people have taken advantage of the Toys for Tots program, which collects toys, games, books and stuffed animals for low-income families. The registration process was previously based on the honor system, Milligan said, and a few applicants were dishonest about their financial standing.

Toys for Tots relies on monetary and toy donations from members of the community, he said.

"They're entrusting us to be good stewards of (those donations)," he said, "and getting toys to children who really need it."

To prove residency, applicants can provide a rental agreement or an addressed bill, Milligan said. For custody, a birth certificate, court order, foster or guardianship papers will suffice.

If an applicant earns more than 150 percent above the national poverty level, he/she is not eligible for the Toys for Tots program, Milligan said. A paycheck or employment termination papers will verify income.

Those who receive public assistance - such as food stamps, Medicare or TAFI - must also show proof of enrollment.

"And if they don't have that info, they can go to the Health and Welfare office at 1120 Ironwood Drive (Coeur d'Alene) and ask for the appropriate document," Milligan said.

Toys for Tots participation increased by 27 percent in 2009. Milligan said he thinks the economy has not recovered in North Idaho, and as local families struggle financially, the program will continue providing much-needed gifts during the Christmas season.

"We gave out toys last year to 3,405 kids," Milligan reported.

For the third straight year, Riverstone has provided a Toys for Tots base camp - 2129 N. Main St. Applications will be accepted from Nov. 29 until Dec. 11, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Toys for Tots workers will collect applications and contact families that are eligible for the program.

"We cannot take any phone or computer applications," Milligan said. "They have to come to the facility."

The program always needs more donations, he added, especially for children aged newborn to 3 years old and 10-12 years old. No stuffed animals, please, Milligan said - other organizations supply plenty.

"The community is so fantastic," he added. "Whenever they know there's a need, they always step up."

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