Local Toys for Tots serves 1,500 children

JOHNSTOWN – About 1,500 children in Fulton and Montgomery counties will have a brighter Christmas thanks to Toys for Tots.

That’s the number of area children who will receive toys as a result of this year’s campaign.

The mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December and distribute the toys as Christmas gifts to less-fortunate children.

John Pradelski, local coordinator for Toys for Tots, spent the last two months setting up donation boxes across Fulton and Montgomery counties and organizing the charity.

Pradelski said the program began covering Fulton and Montgomery counties in 1995. With distribution on Friday and Saturday, the organization completed another year.

Using the former Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown, Pradelski and his volunteers handed out hundreds of toys to families over two days, creating a stockroom filled with action figures, remote-control cars, dolls, model kits and many other items.

Pradelski said the program benefits children up to age 14, along with special-needs children.

A?total of 370 families with about 800 children came into the school during the distribution days Friday and Saturday.

Families received two to three toys for each child.

Pradelski said Toys for Tots also gave toys it collected to 11 nonprofit organizations, which distributed toys to another 700 local children.

The roughly1,500 children who benefited was close to the number who benefited last year, Pradelski said.

“Plus or minus, I think we are off 20 kids from last year,” he said.

“I look at it as it is a good thing that kids are getting toys, but it is a bad thing that there are that many kids who need help,” he said.

Pradelski said the volunteers have been fantastic.

April Iannotti, a volunteer, has been involved with the organization for six years.

“We’ve provided toys for many children this year,” Iannotti said.

Iannotti said they got involved with the program after Pradelski, her uncle, invited her to help.

“I’ve been coming ever since,” Iannotti said.

Knowing she is making a difference is the main reason she comes back every year, she said.

“There are hard times out there,” Iannotti said.

“So knowing we are going to help, to be able to provide toys under the tree, that is what gives me a good feeling,” she said.

Jennifer Trickler, a mother of a child who is getting toys from the program, said the program is great for local residents.

“This is the third [time I used it],” Trickler said. “My son wouldn’t have had a Christmas without them.”

Arthur Cleveland can be reached at acleveland@leaderherald.com.