Holiday charities in need of help, warning about phone scam

Fort Wayne's branches of Marine Toys for Tots and Salvation Army need support in helping everyone enjoy their holiday season.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s the first of December and that means local charities are helping everyone in the community embrace the holiday season.

Fort Wayne Marine Toys for Tots is collecting toys for their annual toy giveaway. Director Sunny Helstrom said they are on schedule. They’re hoping to get more than 6,000 kids new, free toys.

“Please get out into the community and drop a new toy at the boxes,” Helstrom said.

There are around 100 authorized drop boxes in Allen County and surrounding areas. The easiest place to find them are at local Kroger and Walgreen’s stores. The gifts they’re most in need of are toys for kids ages 7 -14, books, sporting goods and Star Wars toys.

The deadline for toy donations is December 9.

Helstrom was excited to talk about a new event this year called  “Fill the Plane.”

On December 3 from 10:00 a.m.. to 3:30 p.m., participants are encouraged to come out to Smith Field Airport, to donate new, packaged toys, watch planes fly and enjoy hot cocoa and games with their families. The goal is to collect enough toys for children in need to fill a plane before it takes off for the North Pole at 3:30 p.m.

“We found out Santa’s a little overwhelmed with the need so we’re going to try to get a plane to the North Pole in time and we’re going to fill it with new toys,” Helstrom said. “Kids will be thrilled to be able to know that they’re helping to get these toys out to Santa Claus in time for Christmas.”

Helstrom reported that she’s been alerted to what they’re calling a phone scam. Someone is calling people asking them to donate money over the phone so they can buy gift cards to give to kids. Toys for Tots has not made those phone calls and won’t ask for donations that way.

“Please just beware,” Helstrom explained. “Do not give your credit card number to anyone that may call you. Just want to warn you, we do not pass out gift cards.”

Over at the Fort Wayne Salvation Army, their staff reports they’re struggling. They are $27,000 behind where they were at this point last year. It’s because not enough people have been volunteering as bell ringers. Of their 47 bell ringing locations, only 20 have bell ringers on average.

“We’re asking the community if they can help us reach our goal this year,” said Captain Luis Acosta. “With these finances it helps us provide finances for the need throughout the whole year. it’s more than 50 percent of our budget that we need these funds for. So we try to fund two months out of the year to help out families throughout the whole year.”

Their donation goal for the holiday season is $622,000.

Also, their Angel Tree program is under-performing. They’ve sent out 2,500 tags to local stores where people to fill out and attach to clothing that they purchase for a local child. Only 20 tags have been filled.

On the Toys for Tots distribution day, they team up with the Salvation Army at a warehouse. The families that come through pick up toys, clothes and holiday food.