Donations to the city Toys for Tots campaign are down nearly 80 percent, and organizers say they fear thousands of needy children will go without presents on Christmas.
Last year, the operation delivered 113,000 toys. This year it has collected 25,000.
Organizers appealed Tuesday for people to donate a new, unwrapped toy. Toys can be dropped off at any Philadelphia fire station or at one of four Toys R Us stores.
"The toys are not coming in," said Marine Staff Sgt. Marc Palos, in charge of the effort and part of the Third Battalion, 14th Regiment. "We try to get at least one toy to every child that needs it."
Palos said the stagnant economy has hurt people's ability to donate.
Last year at this time, mountains of skateboards, soccer balls, basketballs, dolls, and books filled containers at a processing center in Northeast Philadelphia. This year, the center has moved to 2501 Ford Rd. in Bristol, a warehouse "twice as small and twice as empty," Palos said. "We have a few toys in there, but as soon as they come in, they go out."
The phone continually rings with requests. Palos tells callers: We don't have any toys to give.
Each of the more than 60 fire stations is a collection point, as are Toys R Us stores on Cottman Avenue, South Third Street, Aramingo Avenue, and Franklin Mills Circle.
Every toy is inventoried, which is how the Marines know how many are collected. Two years ago, the final figure was 93,000.
This year toys are being distributed in Bristol as well as Philadelphia. Registered charities can apply for toys, which the Marines distribute on a first-come, first-served basis. Demand always exceeds supply.
Toys for Tots was started in 1947 in Los Angeles, when 5,000 toys were given out. The Marines formally adopted the program the next year and expanded it nationwide.
Locally, this week is supposed to mark the campaign's final push, with delivery set for Tuesday through Dec. 22.
"It's not looking too good," Palos said. "If we continue at this rate, we're not going to get close to what we did last year. And that means the children aren't going to get toys."
For a list of places in Philadelphia where Toys for Tots is collecting donations, visit http://bit.ly/t4haol
To find drop-off sites in Pennsylvania, visit http://bit.ly/toXsxH