A drop in donations and an increase in requests are playing havoc with the Baltimore County Department of Social Services' annual free toy store for the needy.
The event, which kicks off Monday for two days in Essex and then moves to Woodlawn and Reisterstown, offers parents a chance to select items on their children's wish lists. They can meander through the aisles and fill their carts with new, free toys. But unless donations pick up, the shelves will be vacant long before the last shoppers arrive.
"At this point, I have less than a roomful of toys, maybe enough for one hour of shoppers," said Deborah S. Ward, director of the department's volunteer services division. "I am not crying wolf. Donations are so down that I may have only gift certificates for some families."
Ward's staff sent invitations to income-eligible families, most of whom are already receiving some assistance from social services. About 500 families with more than 1,500 children, more than double the number in 2009, were invited to the Essex store. At Woodlawn on Dec. 11, parents or guardians will be shopping for nearly 1,000 children and the Reisterstown location hopes to assist another 375 children on Dec. 12 and 16.
"I know that times are still bad," Ward said. "Businesses and individuals have had to cut back, sometimes by as much as half of what they gave in the past. But people have always come through for us. I am just asking for everyone to think of these families who are hurting."
Ward is asking donors to drop off a new unwrapped toy at any of the county's 17 library branches by the end of business Friday. The county's Drumcastle Center at 6401 York Road will also accept donations from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
"We do have a good supply of girly toys, but we really need more variety, especially for boys, teens and infants," Ward said.
More information is available at 410-853-3021.