By Brittany Polito
04:43PM / Friday, November 12, 2021
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Around 190 Toys For Tots boxes will be scattered around the county this holiday season to deliver joy to children in need.
The toy collection effort accepts new, unwrapped toys for ages newborn to 14 years old in the months of October, November, and December so that no kid goes without.
Berkshire County coordinator Christopher Keegan's yearly goal is to honor every request for toys.
"This is just a whole different area around the holidays where people need some help," he said. "This is what we're here to do and it's rewarding."
He works with around 10 nonprofit agencies in the area to determine the need for toys including the Pittsfield and North Adams Salvation Army, the Department of Children and Families, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, 18 Degrees, and the Brien Center. Local folks who register for the drive online are also forwarded to him.
Keegan, who is the former program director for the Boys and Girls Club of Pittsfield, saw the need for this service in Berkshire County firsthand through his work with local youth.
He now works in the maintenance department at the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office and in its newsletter "Beyond the Badge," Keegan explains that the number of children in need of toys has gone up by about 1,000 over the last three years.
During the thick of the pandemic last year, Toys For Tots provided to nearly 3,000 local kids.
Keegan anticipates about 190 collection boxes will be distributed around the county in about 150 locations this year.
The toy drive began in 1947 in Los Angeles. It was spearheaded by Marine Reserve Maj. William Hendricks and became a nationwide campaign in 1948.
At this time, the Marine Corps League joined the effort and has been leading it since. The Toys For Tots Foundation was recognized as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) in 1991 and charitable donations were able to be accepted.
Keegan is in his seventh year as the Berkshire County coordinator after becoming a member of Marine Corps League Pittsfield Detachment 137 in 2015. At his first meeting, he was ordered to take over the effort and has positively impacted it since.
This includes keeping the toys within Berkshire County to help tots in the donators' own back yard.
"When I took this over seven years ago, the toys used to all go to the Westover Air Base in Chicopee, that's where the active Marines are stationed," he explained.
After the toys were sent out of town it would then be determined how many came back to the county. Wanting to keep the donations local, Keegan was able to work with the foundation to guarantee that donations made in the county stayed here.
To aid the local effort, he spoke to (now retired) Superintendent Jack Quinn about getting the Sheriff's Office involved and they were happy to loan storage space for the toys and vehicles for their pickup.
Before Keegan's leadership, the Marines had to rent U-Haul trucks to pick up the toys and use a church basement for storage.
"From a Marine Corps league standpoint, it was a great collaboration because it saved us," he said. "We don't have the means to do this from a vehicle standpoint and manpower standpoint."
Because of pandemic guidelines restraining outside volunteers from helping sort and pack the toys, Sheriff's Office employees contributed manual labor to the process last year.
Keegan said he also has a great team of administrative help. This includes his daughter Bridget Keegan, who was featured in iBerkshires earlier this year for helping a large number of residents secure vaccinations.
There are also individuals who shop for toys.
"We do have a number of people who don't have transportation, and we can deliver them to them," he explained. "We go right up to Christmas Eve delivering toys, I sent Bridget out shopping the last couple of years on Christmas Eve looking to fill the void here, and I don't have any set number each year, I just try to honor every request that I get."
On average, about $2,500 is spent to fill the gap of toys that aren't donated.
There are a number of fundraising endeavors held to support Toys For Tots including a recent motorcycle ride and a musical bingo event.
The Marine Corps are holding a pancake breakfast for the effort on Sunday, Nov. 28, from 7:30 to noon at St. Joseph's Parish Center. Admission is $5 person with children 12 and younger free.
Donation boxes are picked up on December 7 so that Keegan and his crew can get to work preparing for the holidays. Any individuals or businesses interested in volunteering or donating can contact Keegan at 413-443-7220, Ext. 1150.