When Anita Parisot of Coeur d’Alene became the coordinator for the Kootenai County Toys for Tots program she knew she had big shoes to fill. The Pappy Boyington Detachment #966 of the Marine Corps League has been conducting the toy drive since 1997. Parisot is the first civilian to take the position. Parisot said that along with bringing toys to the area’s children, the opportunity allows her to honor the Marines in her life.
“I’m not a Marine, but I carry two special Marines in my heart,” she said. “It’s humbling to be entrusted with this program. My goal for this year’s campaign is to provide a little bit of Christmas to as many children as we can.”
The county-wide drive collects new, unwrapped toys and books for kids 12 and younger who otherwise might not have a merry Christmas. It is geared toward helping low-income families who are on public assistance and active duty military families.
In 2016 Toys for Tots distributed over 10,000 toys, including 5,800 books and almost 4,000 stocking stuffers to 1,959 struggling families so they could provide a magical Christmas for their little ones.
Parisot is hoping North Idaho is up for the challenge again this year. She has made a few changes to the campaign in the hope of reaching more children.
“It’s all about the kids,” Parisot said, “and making sure they wake up Christmas morning with presents under the tree.”
The biggest change? Toys for Tots has a new home- the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. For the past five years Kootenai Fire and Rescue has hosted the campaign. A remodel meant Parisot had to find a new location.
“We are so grateful to Chief Maren and the entire Kootenai Fire and Rescue team,” Parisot said. “Chief Maren went above and beyond in finding us a new home at the fairgrounds. The Citylink bus stop right outside the gate will really help our families who don’t have access to reliable transportation.”
“Alexia Jordan, the General Manager of the fairgrounds, her team, and the entire North Idaho Fair Board has been overwhelmingly generous and supportive. This will be our home for as long as they’ll have us.”
Families have been applying to receive toys through the program since November 13. Families can apply in person at two locations this year. The American Legion Post, 1138 E. Poleline Avenue in Post Falls will be taking toy requests from November 13-December 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Kootenai County Fairgrounds, Building 19, will be accepting applications from November 13-December 15, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Applicants must apply in person and provide proof of participation in any of the following: Medicaid, WIC, TAFI (Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho), food stamps/Quest card (verification of active status must be provided), Social Security disability, Supplemental Security Income or military active duty. Proof of a Kootenai County residence, such as a valid Idaho driver’s license with current address, a utility bill or a rental agreement, will be accepted for verification. The parent/guardian’s name must be on the document.
Only the custodial parent or legal guardian may apply. Proof of custody for each child is needed, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, guardianship papers, WIC, TAFI, Medicaid or an active Quest card.
Kootenai County residents who are not on public assistance but make a net income of less than 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are also eligible to participate in Toys for Tots. They will have to verify county residence and proof of custody of their children as well as bring in their last two pay stubs for the determination of their income.
Once requests are in, Toys for Tots workers go through applications and the fun begins-packing up and distributing the toys. Families can pick up their toys at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, Building 19, beginning December 19 through December 22, 10 a.m. to 7pm and December 23 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys for boys and girls from infant to 12-years-old. Parisot said collecting enough toys for the older kids, especially boys in the 9-12 age group can sometimes be a challenge.
“As they get older kid’s toys get smaller and more expensive,” she said. “We have a dollar limit on how much we can spend for each toy so it can be tough to find toys the older boys would like.”
If you’re thinking of donating a toy, Parisot asks you to keep this age group in mind.
Donations will be accepted at the fairgrounds and several area grocery stores, department stores, banks, restaurants, fire stations and other establishments throughout the county. Monetary donations can be made online at www.toysfortots.org or in person by contacting Parisot.
In addition to toys and books, Parisot needs volunteers to help register families, sort, pack, and distribute the toys. If you would like to help, contact her at email@example.com.
“We’re calling ourselves the Volunteer Elf Brigade,” Parisot said. “I would love for families to join us. It’s an amazing experience, especially for the little ones. I cry at least four times a day seeing the families receive their toys.”
Parisot is also grateful for the people of Kootenai county and their generosity.
“This community is incredibly compassionate and altruistic,” she said. “I’m honored, humbled, and really excited to work alongside them and bring a little bit of Christmas to our kids.”