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Marines face toy deficit as Christmas nears

  • Story Highlights
  • The Marines' Toys for Tots program has distributed donated toys for 60 years
  • Bad economy has resulted in more requests for toys and fewer donations
  • Marines will fall short of 16.6 million toys distributed last year
  • In Atlanta and San Francisco areas, donations down 30 percent
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By Bob Crowley
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(CNN) -- The Marines have been making children's Christmas dreams come true for nearly 60 years, but the corps may be seeing fewer smiles this year.

"We always run out of toys before we run out of children,"  says Toys for Tots official Bill Grein.

Volunteer Betty Whelan sorts donated toys in a Toys for Tots center in Boston, Massachusetts.

With demand up due to the poor economy and toy donations down, Toys for Tots, the Marine Corps' program that distributes Christmas toys to children in need, is facing one of its toughest years, according to Bill Grein, the Toys for Tots Foundation vice president.

Grein said the program last year distributed approximately 16.6 million toys and books, but this year he doesn't think they will be able to reach that number.

"We always run out of toys before we run out of children," he said, but this year "it's a major problem."

Grein said that the program is getting more requests than in previous years and cities like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Miami, Florida; Fresno, California; Atlanta, Georgia, and many others are hurting for donations.

"Every kid deserves a present," said Marine Sgt. Daniel Sampson of the Toys for Tots program in Boston, Massachusetts. "Right now, we're not sending out as much as we should be."

In the Washington area, the Marines need to find toys for 82,000 children, but "we are tens of thousands of toys behind," Master Sgt Timothy Butler said.

If they can't fill the need and get every child on the list a toy for Christmas, Butler said, "It's gonna break my heart."

Last year, the Marines were able to raise $13,000 in donations from people at Union Station, a major commuter hub in downtown Washington, but this year the Marines will be "lucky to get half that," Staff Sgt. Johnny Noble said.

In Atlanta, Toys for Tots administration chief Edward Barrett said they had received 241,814 donations, well short of their goal of 800,000.

Barrett understands that the economy has a lot to do with the lack of contributions, and he estimates that donations are down by about 30 percent this year.

In San Francisco, California, Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Anthamatten said the Toys for Tots program there was also seeing a 30 percent decrease in toy and monetary donations.

In Boston, last minute donations came to the rescue. According to volunteer Kay Carpenter, the Boston Toys for Tots program used money that came in last week to buy $15,000 worth of toys, hopefully, enough to fill all of their orders.

But, nationally, Toys for Tots bins are still empty.

"We're Marines and we set goals," Edwards said, "and when we can't achieve those goals that's frustrating."

CNN's Bethany Swain contributed to this report.

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