In an overwhelming show of generosity during these hard times, Philadelphia-area residents rallied over the weekend to save the Toys for Tots campaign.
Just last week, the toy-collection charity run by the Marines Corps Reserve had 20,000 toys - half the number it had collected this time last year.
Yesterday, Gunnery Sgt. Robert Putney said he had 50,000 toys to deliver to needy children, and the number was still going up.
"It was a drastic increase," said Putney, sounding excited and almost out of breath. He attributed the surplus to a story and an ad in Saturday's Inquirer about the toy deficit.
"Since The Inquirer ran the article, we got 30,000 more toys," Putney said. "It's made a huge, huge difference in this year's drive."
Dozens of stuffed animals sat smiling among more than 150 bags of toys and games spilling across a large meeting room at The Inquirer and Daily News Building yesterday.
One of the largest contributions came from Lynn Honickman, founder and president of the Honickman Foundation, which supports social issues and the arts. She gave Putney $5,000 to purchase toys.
"You do get to make miracles," Honickman said yesterday. "I want our kids to be happy and joyous. To have the privilege of being part of a child's smile is big."
Honickman also gave $5,000 over the weekend to the Camden Rescue Mission, also mentioned in the Inquirer story.
On Friday, the Rev. Al Stewart of the mission had just 4,500 toys for 7,000 children. After the story was published, people from Pennsylvania and New Jersey - "my suburban friends" - augmented Honickman's gift with an avalanche of toys.
The mission, which had planned to stop giving out toys Saturday, now has so many more toys than expected that it will continue to distribute them to children through Jan. 6.
In fact, Stewart said that if his aid is needed, he will help the Toys for Tots campaign in Camden, which postponed a delivery of 2,500 toys to poor children in the city yesterday. Camden City Business Administrator Christine Tucker said that there were not enough toys but that the administration was expecting more and planned to distribute them today.
"We stand ready to serve," Stewart said. He acknowledged that he was so moved by Honickman's generosity that he began crying and could not stop for long time.
"Everybody is calling me crybaby," he said.
Some of his tears were inspired by 12-year-old Jenny Silver of Cherry Hill, whose Bowling for Bears foundation - which she started at age 9 - donated 500 teddy bears to the mission.
Jenny works with Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc. to donate bears to needy children, her father, lawyer Sam Silver, said yesterday. Over the weekend, Jenny Silver also donated 40 bears to children staying at the Women Against Abuse domestic-violence shelter in Philadelphia, which also was mentioned in Saturday's article.
Yesterday in Philadelphia, 18 Marines and a half-dozen Holy Family University students were picking up and distributing toys using six vans, a humvee, a "seven-ton" - a military vehicle big enough to ferry 2,000 toys - and their own cars, Putney said.
Churches, shelters and other agencies get almost all of the toys to redistribute to families.
The Marines also distribute some directly to the needy. "I pack their whole Christmas, and show up with Marines in dress blues," Putney said.
Today, he hopes to present a bounty of gifts to a family with four young children whose home burned down last week.
The public has donated at least $22,000 in checks, Putney said.
Big companies also are giving, including the Hess Corp., which recently donated 5,000 of this year's Hess toy trucks to Toys for Tots.
At The Inquirer yesterday, Flyers "ambassador" and former player Bob Kelly unloaded more than 500 toys collected from fans attending Comcast-Spectacor events, including Flyers games as well as 76ers and Phantoms games.
"Everybody seems to be trying to help," Kelly said.
The largesse is made all the more impressive given the faltering economy.
"Philadelphians honestly care," said Brian P. Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. "Many of the families who came to us with toys don't have a lot. It's a wonderfully moving thing."