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Lexington toy-donation groups see surge in need

More parents are looking for help filling holiday stockings this year, according to two Fayette County charities.

Requests for toys from the Lexington firefighters' annual holiday giveaway have nearly doubled, and the Salvation Army, which locally teams with the Marines' Toys for Tots program, has seen a big jump as well. The toy drives coordinate to avoid duplicating efforts.

Maj. Debora Ashcraft with the Salvation Army said almost 5,000 children are signed up for the Angel Tree program already, and they are still processing requests.

"We've never had 5,000 children at this point. We usually have about 3,500," Ashcraft said.

Between the Angel Trees and Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army provided toys and clothes for just more than 5,000 last year kids in Fayette County. The Salvation Army also helped more than 1,000 children in Jessamine County.

But with the economy in bad shape and more people out of work, the aid organizations will almost certainly surpass those numbers this year.

"I don't know exactly how many are first-timers, but we can tell a lot people are new," Ashcraft said. Many are more used to being on the giving side than the receiving end, she said.

"It's a hard giving year," she said. "If everybody just does a little, we'll get through it."

She said it is too soon to tell how donations are running. Sgt. Robert Ritchie, with Toys for Tots, said that between locally given items and toys sent from the national program, collections are up at this point compared to last year.

The Lexington firefighters' toy program faces potential cutbacks because donations have fallen this year.

Don Wickline, who works for the Lexington fire department and helps drum up items for the annual fund-raising auction, said the toy program already has about 4,000 kids to help, up from 2,200 last year.

"If somebody had told me we'd have 4,000 kids this year, I personally wouldn't have believed it," said Wickline, who has worked with the program for eight years.

Businesses that usually donate services and items for the Fraternal Order of Firefighters' auction are facing tough times themselves, Wickline said.

"People haven't been able to respond as freely as they'd like," he said.

Last year, the fire department's annual auction raised about $15,000 for the toy program, but Wickline said getting that might be difficult this year.

"I don't know if people really realize how tough times are," Wickline said.