Janesville46°

Need for toys skyrockets at ECHO

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
December 2, 2007
— Imagine you are a child waking up Christmas Day only to find no toys under the tree.

“That would be devastating to the kids whose families don’t have anything,’’ said Jessica Schafer, client advocate at ECHO, a local nonprofit faith-sponsored charitable organization that serves low-income people in the Janesville area.


But that might happen.


“We don’t think we’ll be able to meet the need unless donations start picking up,” Schafer said.


Donations received so far are “very, very small and lagging from previous years. We haven’t had a lot of businesses that normally contribute make their donations yet,” Schafer said.


“We’re storing them in one of my co-worker’s office, and the floor is just one single layer, which is really not that much,” Schafer said.


There are a several reasons for ECHO’s concern:


-- This year’s giveaway is Dec. 14. That’s only a few days earlier than last year, but it is technically a week earlier because Christmas falls on Tuesday.


“Normally we do distribution the Friday before Christmas. But if we did that, there’d be no day for us to allow people whom for some reason were not able to make it to our distribution. We like to have a couple days after distribution for families in need to pick up toys. So if we did it Friday before Christmas, there would be no day to do that,” Schafer said.


-- A sluggish economy and talk of a recession also have an impact, Schafer said.


“Money is tight for everybody, so I think people are saving their money and not being as generous. GM went on strike and a lot of our donations come from people who work at GM. They also haven’t been working their Friday overtime hours,” Schafer said.


Tracey Cook, the UAW/GM representative on ECHO’s board of directors, is leading the collection efforts at GM this year. She replaces the Mike Prochazka family, who successfully led the effort for more than two decades.


Unfortunately, donations of $4,300 are “quite a bit down” from previous years and last year’s $6,000, Cook said.


“With 1,000 members gone, our UAW membership is down significantly because of the buyouts and retirements,’’ she said.


The money collected at GM is divided proportionately among communities where plant employees live. This year, in addition to ECHO, the Milton food pantry, Salvation Army in Beloit and Parkview School District food pantry in Orfordville will receive help, Cook said.


This year, Cook said, the money collected for ECHO will be used to primarily buy toys for older children, 10 to 17, who don’t typically get a lot of gifts from the general public.


Last year, ECHO’s toy program served 916 children, with each child receiving at least two toys.


“That’s a total of 1,832 toys,” Schafer said.


As of noon Thursday, 643 kids had signed up for toys. But Schafer said, “most people wait until the last minute to sign up.”


Families in need have until Friday to sign up their children to receive toys. Most clients do so when they visit ECHO to pick up their monthly food order and sign up for other services, including the holiday giveaway, Schafer said.


ECHO began having families sign up for toys Nov. 12, Schafer said, “to make sure we’re hitting all of our clients.”


Although the donations haven’t arrived yet, Schafer said Blackhawk Community Credit Union and its employees have committed to donating toys in addition to providing volunteers for the toy distribution and at least $4,000 in Sentry gift cards.


TO HELP

Toys can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, during ECHO’s Fill a Truck event at Sam’s Club, Janesville. The Parker Show Choir will provide entertainment.


Those unable to make this toy drop-off may drop off toy donations by Thursday, Dec. 13, at ECHO’s office, 65 S. High St., downtown Janesville.



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