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Grinchy grievance with Postal Service leaves Bay area Toys for Tots hurting

7:33 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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Normally, the Toys for Tots warehouse in South Tampa would be packed to the walls with toys by this time of the season. Instead, there is row after row of empty boxes.
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Tampa, Florida -- Toys for Tots is hurting this year in our region and, in large part, that may be because the U.S. Postal Service didn't deliver a flyer to let folks know about their annual postal carrier collection.

The flyer flap could leave hundreds of families in our area without toys this year.

Normally, the Toys for Tots warehouse in South Tampa would be packed to the walls with toys by this time of the season. Instead, there is row after row of empty boxes.

They're not just missing their numbers. They're off by a 100,00 toys in Hillsborough County alone.

Michelle McRae helps operate the warehouse in Tampa and it breaks her heart to see how empty the place is this season.

"Forget four for five gifts per child. This year, we've been forced to go to one toy per child. One stocking stuffer per child and either a book, a ball or a doll," said McRae.

Toys for Tots says the annual letter carrier's toy drive, organized by the U.S. Postal Service, has come up way short this season at around 15,000 toys collected in our region this year, compared with 55,000 last year.

One big reason is what you may not have seen in your mailbox this year.

It turns out the traditional mailbox flyer which lets people know about the annual toy collection was not put on top of the mail in that special envelope as it had in years past.

Instead, it was a printed ad, tucked away inside with other ads. Out of sight, and apparently, out of mind.

Maj. Ed Zaleski, who has spearheaded the drive for years now, says it's been devastating.

"I think that made a huge difference for people to just be aware that the letter carrier day was going on," he said.

Letter carriers say it's bothered them, too. They like being Santa's Helpers. That's why carrier Ron Welles and others are still collecting well past the official date two weeks ago.

"They just keep putting them out and I've been picking them up," said Welles.

So what happened to the flyers this year?

A Postal Service spokesperson insisted they're not trying to be scrooges, but the agency is already billions in debt.

"The lowest cost rate for one of the flyers is 14.5 cents each," said Spokeswoman Debra Fetterly, "So had we been a private business it would have cost about $650,000."

Fetterly also said it's not just about the money. Using those special "G-10" envelopes to deliver the flyers was not okay with post office lawyers.

"We were told that the G-10 permit envelope is to be used only for official postal service use. And that would not include the Toys for Tots campaign," said Fetterly.
 
Toys for Tots hopes to work more efficiently with the post office next year. In the meantime, many letter carriers will still collect gifts, and donations are still being taken elsewhere.

Zaleski said there were a couple of other issues that didn't help either.

Their yearly collection at Raymond James Stadium was divided with other charities this year.

Also, Toys for Tots partners with the Tampa Bay Lightning and collects thousands of toys at two home games each season. But with the lockout, there were no games, and as a result, no toys.

"We don't blame anyone for what happened. We just think we can do better," said Maj. Zaleski.

If you would like to help, please visit www.tampa-fl.toysfortots.org.

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