The 2014 Toys for Toys giveaway. Photo: Berkeley Police Association
The 2014 Toys for Toys giveaway. Photo: Berkeley Police Association

Update, Dec. 18: The Berkeley Police Association has closed its fundraising campaign because it more than exceeded its goals. The drive for Toys for Tots garnered $11,114 from 193 people in one day.

Original story, Dec. 17: Less than 14 hours after the Berkeley Police Association set up a fundraising campaign to raise money for a donation shortfall faced by the Toys for Tots program, about 150 people had donated $8,400.

And several children’s toy and game stores had stepped in and offered to help. Stephanie Sala, the founder of Five Little Monkeys on Solano Avenue in Albany, has offered to donate $1,000 worth of toys. Devin McDonald, one of the owners of Mr. Mopp’s toy shop at 1405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has offered a 15% discount for people buying toys for the program, which is overseen by the Berkeley Police Department. And Games of Berkeley, 2151 Shattuck Ave., will give a 15% discount Thursday and Friday to anyone purchasing toys for the drive. The game shop also plans to ship a delivery of toys to the drive itself.

“I received toys from TFT as a kid so it’s only fitting I give back,” Ralph Colby wrote on the Go Fund Me page after he made a donation.

One donor even contributed $1,000 to the fund.

“It’s been very encouraging to see this tremendous outpouring of support in such a small amount of time,” Police Chief Michael Meehan said in an email.“It’s great to see the resolve of the Berkeley community, and our Berkeley Police family, working together, to show care and compassion for the kids in our community who need it the most.”

Sgt. Christian Stines, who runs the association and set up the Go Fund Me site, concurred.

“I’m absolutely overwhelmed, and overjoyed,” wrote Stines. “It’s a poignant reminder of how caring and commitment to helping others is woven into the fabric of this community. My hat is off to all of you that have contributed, both individuals and businesses, and to Berkeleyside for your support and use of your media reach to do so much good.”

The 2014 Toys for Toys giveaway. Photo: Berkeley Police Association
The 2014 Toys for Toys giveaway. Photo: Berkeley Police Association

The Berkeley Police Department, the Berkeley Fire Department and the U.S. Marine Corps have participated in the Toys for Tots program for over a decade. This year around 300 Berkeley families in need signed up to participate. The day is usually a joyful one as families come to the police department and the kids get to “shop” the approximately 3,000 toys laid out on tables.

“The goal of the program is to deliver a message of hope to youngsters whose families are in need and to support each of them in becoming responsible, productive community members and future leaders,” according to a statement released earlier this month by the police department.

The 2015 Toys for Tots event comes Saturday, Dec. 19. But it appeared to be in jeopardy Wednesday after the Marine Corps, which has a long history of generous contributions to the Berkeley program, told BPD it was unable to deliver thousands of toys that had been expected.

Concerned that the kids would be disappointed, the police department passed the hat and raised thousands of dollars from staff to help buy toys. The chief also reached out to Berkeleyside, which posted a story on the shortfall Wednesday afternoon. The response was tremendous. The article was shared more than 1,400 times on Facebook, and a Facebook post about the program reached nearly 30,000 people. The Oakland-based Pacific Boychoir Academy collected toys Thursday during a holiday party. Patrons of Mr. Mopps pledged to come to the store today to buy toys.

The Pacific Boychoir collected toys for Berkeley during a holiday party Thursday. Photo: Pacific Boychoir Academy
The Pacific Boychoir collected toys for Berkeley during a holiday party Thursday. Photo: Pacific Boychoir Academy

The police department is looking for toys for toddlers to teens. Donations of new, unwrapped toys can be dropped off at the department at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Way daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Friday, Dec. 18. Police officials said it is particularly difficult to find toys for teens, and that they appreciate $20 gift cards.

The surge of last-minute donations will have officers and volunteers working hard the next few days, but the kids will get their toys, said Stines. He credited program coordinator Sgt. Rob Rittenhouse for pulling together such a significant event. Rittenhouse said Wednesday the department has one of the largest Toys for Tots distribution programs in Alameda County.

“Rittenhouse is a super star and will be able to work with large toy vendors and local vendors to be sure the tables are overflowing with toys for this event,” wrote Stines. “He has done an incredible job every year, with many of us by his side, loading trucks, setting up toys and getting them into the hands of families that need them.”

Families who wished to participate in the Toys for Tots program were required to sign up in advance and provide proof of residency in Berkeley. Registration for the program closed Sunday.

Other groups that helped raise money and solicit toys also include the Berkeley Black Police Officers Association and SEIU Local 1021, according to Meehan.

To donate to the Toys for Tots program, click here.

Any unused proceeds will be used in a future Toys for Tots program, according to Stines.

“Thanks to the community’s generosity, they have not only saved Christmas for 300 families this year, but we will have a great start for the 2016 holiday season, and all involved will be able to avoid the awful feeling we faced when we confronted the possibility of this event not happening,” said Stines.

For those who are looking for another way to help give back this holiday season, Berkeleyside will be raising money for the Alameda County Community Food Bank tonight, Dec. 17, at a fundraiser/party at Spat’s on Shattuck Avenue from 6-9 p.m. All tips, and proceeds from a raffle, will go to the food bank.

Berkeley’s ‘Toys for Tots’ program needs community help after donations fall through (12.16.15)

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[Note: This article was updated shortly after publication to include additional community efforts to help support the Berkeley Police Department’s Toys for Tots program.]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...