Wanted: Toys and coats for Pastorius School

Every holiday season teachers and administrators at Francis D. Pastorius public school deliver donated toys on Dec. 23 to school families who otherwise might not have any. But this year the school found out late that it wasn’t getting any toys.

Usually, the presents reach the East Germantown school via the Toys for Tots program.  This year, something went amiss.

“We put in our application and somehow they didn’t get it, or there was a mix up and we’re not getting our toys,” said Pamela Myers-Williams, the parent and community ombudsman at the school.

The school found out Friday it would not be getting the toys it was expecting.

“There is no request in the system for that school,” said Michelle Estrich, a volunteer who helps coordinate the toy requests at the 14th Marine Armed Forces Center on Woodhaven Road in Philadelphia.

So Myers-Williams has circulated a call through the community for last-minute donations.

“It is my hope that you will be able to assist us in bringing smiles to some of the children’s faces at Pastorius School,” the letter read. “I know this is a late notice and you may not be able to do much but we would be very grateful for whatever you can do to assist us.”

Estrich said Pastorius won’t be the only Tots for Tots applicant to be disappointed this holiday season. This year, more than most, the Toys For Tots program has been strapped for donations, and filling orders has been so difficult that they’ve had to put a cap at 300 for gift requests.

“We receive requests from thousands and thousands of organizations and individuals,” she said. “So a lot of people got denied because we didn’t have toys coming in. … We don’t have enough toys to fill orders.”

Estrich said Toys for Tots can’t set a priority for school requests, and it can’t promise that toy requests will be filled because it is totally dependent on donations and volunteer work.

Myers-Williams said she did not promise anything to students this year, but many have expectations left over from last year. And for upwards of 40 families last year, the donations that school officials brought to their doors were all there was for Christmas.

Myers-Williams said she cried in her office on Friday when she heard the news.

“We know who the families are that are in need,” she said. “Those that we see running around without socks, we tend to know.”

For many of the same students winter is an especially hard month. Some can’t even afford coats. And to make things worse, this year the expected winter coat donation that comes through the school district has also been delayed.

Al Quarels, director of the district’s homeless student initiative, usually has about 3,000 new winter coats to distribute by now.

“I haven’t even been able to set up anything out to my schools saying this is the date,” Quarels said.

The coats simply haven’t arrived, but the word is they are coming soon, according to Quarels.

Every year the coats come from Charming Shops, the parent company of Fashion Bug based in Bensalem. But since there is so much need and the district doesn’t pay a dime for the garments, Quarels said he doesn’t want to make a big stink if things are running a bit late.

The delay at Charming Shops’ Keeping Kids Warm program comes down to much the same reason as with the toys: the unpredictability of donations, or really, donated services.

According to Illana Bagell, a spokewoman for the company, amassing all the coats to fill large requests like those from the Philadelphia schools can be especially tough because the program is dependent on donated transportation services, which are difficult to schedule.

“They requested 3,000 coats, which we are donating to them, and we’re doing it as fast as we possibly can with the resources available,” Bagell said.

As with Toys For Tots, Keeping Kids Warm can’t promise delivery of coats by a certain time.

At Pastorius school all the uncertainty means plenty of difficult moments when Myers-Williams watches her students come down the hall each morning.

It’s why she’s reaching out now even though time is short.

Anything can help, she said: hats, gloves, scarves and toys like board games that can help get a whole family engaged and playing together on the special day.  And it’s why she and others from Pastorius will be going door-to-door tomorrow, trying to make whatever donations they can pull together go as far as possible.

“I still try to think about that they’re children,” she said. “I can’t [get] ’em all, but I need all the help I can get for some.”

To help, contact Pamela Myers-Williams, Parent and Community Ombudsman at Pastorius: 215-951-4080 or 215-951-4008, cell phone 215-284-5894; or email pmyerswilliams@philasd.org.

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