Bags full of 200 Baby Grover and Baby Big Bird stuffed dolls await a home, hoping to be the night-time companion of a child who might otherwise not get such a nice Christmas present.
Volunteers are sounding the annual call to help with Neighbors in Need, the holiday charity that brings together several agencies in Carroll County.
The dolls were among the first gifts to roll in. Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., which coordinates the charities, churches and businesses participating in the drive, purchased 200 dolls for only $50 through a market for nonprofit agencies.
But much more is needed to meet the needs of the more than 1,000 families expected to seek help this year, said Lynda Gainor, deputy director of Human Services Programs -- not just gifts, but time from volunteers willing to sort through them all.
This year, families will be able to "shop" through the tables of donated items at a distribution Dec. 17 and 18 at Cranberry Mall, which is donating use of the former Greenfelt's billiard hall.
In the past, volunteers have packed baskets according to general requests from each family.
Giving parents a choice makes more sense, since they know best what their children need or want, Ms. Gainor said.
Neighbors in Need helped 1,027 families last year with gifts and food, said Barbara Brown, a volunteer coordinator.
Just over half those families were "adopted" by groups or individuals who would agree to provide food and gifts for them. The other families got baskets of food and gifts pulled together from a variety of sources.
Neighbors in Need organizers urge other charities to work through them, so that all families in need will receive help and to prevent duplication, Ms. Brown said.
Each family that registers with the drive must be referred by some social service agency, church or school that will vouch for the family's need. Ms. Brown said that preserves the legitimacy of the drive.
Families fill out the form with the ages of each member and what they need or want, such as clothing or stuffed animal toys.
The information goes into a computer, and volunteers help make sure donations meet the requests. Whatever isn't donated is bought with cash that individuals and groups donate.
Ms. Brown said the drive has never had to turn down a family in need.
Each year, she said, some family that once got help decides to be on the giving end if their luck has turned.
Time, money sought
Following are some items and services Neighbors in Need is requesting:
* Businesses and churches sponsoring drives can help by collecting food in November and gifts in December, said Barbara Brown, volunteer coordinator.
* People wishing to adopt a family or buy a present can go to the Neighbors in Need booth at Cranberry Mall next month. Donors can get a specific request to fill, or just give presents they have already bought.
* For gifts, underwear and sweat shirts and sweat pants are the most requested and needed items, Ms. Brown said. Donors should bring large and extra-large sizes, which are most in demand, Ms. Brown said.
* The drive always runs short on gifts suitable for teen-agers, such as inexpensive personal stereos with headphones, electronic or other games, jewelry and pop-music tapes or compact discs.
"Teens are hard to buy for, and teens like Christmas, too," Ms. Brown said.
* Long tables for holding the donated gifts are needed between Nov. 8 and Jan. 15, although many could be returned as early as Dec. 27. Getting the tables has been difficult because most churches use all their tables for holiday activities.
* Adult volunteers to help distribute gifts on Dec. 17 and 18 are needed. Lynda Gainor of Human Services Programs Inc. said she prefers to use student volunteers for food distribution those days. The students prefer doing that work, she said.
* Volunteers also are needed for the booth at Cranberry Mall to explain what Neighbors in Need is and how donors can give.