The number of Douglas County families who need holiday gifts for their children has increased every year.
Mary Jones, coordinator of the Douglas County Toys for Tots committee, said there are a number of reasons: the economy, job loss and an increase in the cost of living in Lawrence.
"I'm quite sure we'll go over the number of kids we served last year," Jones said. "I hate to say this, but we've increased every year."
The Douglas County Toys for Tots program begins its annual drive today to collect toys and money for needy children in the area.
The two Lawrence Hy-Vee stores - at 3504 Clinton Parkway and 4000 W. Sixth St. - will serve as collection points this year. The stores will collect unwrapped toys or cash and checks, which will be used to buy toys from local retailers.
The growing need became apparent, Jones said, when the program began receiving phone calls and request applications far earlier than normal this year.
But the goal, as always, is to provide toys for every child in need. The hope this year is to have at least 6,100 toys to hand out, although Jones said they likely would need more.
The program will have a toy drive from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Dole Institute of Politics on Kansas University's West Campus. The goal is to gather 500 toys in just a few hours. The event will feature music, door prizes and visits from Santa Claus and Baby Jay.
"We seem to come out OK every year. I bite my fingernails sometimes," Jones said. "But so far, so good."
The toy drive ends Dec. 24.
The Douglas County Toys for Tots program, which began in 1990, is operated by local volunteers and sanctioned by the Toys for Tots Foundation. It follows all guidelines of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.