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Holiday Food and Toy Drives Come Up Short


Santa needs help. Local charities report that holiday donations of everything from dolls to canned yams are trickling in at a much slower pace this December than last year, while the number of families who need such help has soared.

In Whittier, hundreds of families waited in line earlier this month for toys from the Salvation Army. Many of them were turned away. In Long Beach, organizers of a Christmas party for Cambodians had received only a handful of toys and 25 pounds of rice for 140 families earlier this week. And smaller Christmas drives run by such cities as Cerritos and Lakewood also report that donations are down. Local offices of the U.S. Marines Toys-for-Tots drive have also failed to keep up with the level of donations received last year.

"Nobody has any money," said Kayte Deioma, director of community services for the United Cambodian Community Inc. of Long Beach. "Everybody's worrying about what's going to happen with the economy and the situation in the Middle East."

Deioma said corporations have also reduced donations because of a change in the federal tax laws that limit the amount of charitable deductions they can claim.

Last year, organizers of the Cambodians' annual Christmas party received 800 pounds of rice for a holiday dinner, $2,600 dollars in donations and 400 toys, Deioma said. They threw a party for 80 Cambodian families, many of them impoverished refugees. Up to 140 families are expected to attend today's party. But earlier in the week, the organization had only the 25 pounds of rice, $500 in donations and a paper bag with two used Cabbage Patch dolls and a few other toys, according to Deioma.

Long lines of parents and children waited hours in Whittier earlier this month to sign up for the Salvation Army's Christmas baskets of toys and food that will be distributed Friday.

In the first six days of registration for the program last year, 300 families signed up; this year, 564 families applied. Many of them were poor Latino families dealing with recent layoffs, said Carol Hassler, who runs the Whittier program with her husband, Arnold. Some of them have up to 12 children who need presents. "If they're willing to stand in line all day for two little toys, you know they really need it," Carol Hassler said.

She said that hundreds more families had to be turned away. "The saddest part of it was that we had nowhere to send them," she said. "Some of them almost got hysterical. They didn't know where to go."

Coordinator Peter Linstead reports that the Long Beach Salvation Army drive desperately needs more toys. So far, the organization has only 8,000 toys for 9,200 children in 4,460 families, Linstead said. Last year, there were 3,782 families.

Long Beach police and firefighters said donations to their drive, Christmas for Needy Families, are so scarce that police cars and firetrucks will deliver cartons of toys and food to only 250 families this holiday weekend, compared to about 450 last year. "It breaks my heart, but we have to turn the people away," said Cpl. Mary Jensen. "We just can't handle them all."

Some organizers vowed to make up for the shortages out of their own pockets. On Tuesday, Gerry Woudenberg was counting cans for the Whittier Ecumenical Center's food drive. He came up short by 150 cans of yams, 150 cans of pumpkins and 200 cans of cranberry sauce.

Woudenberg had only hours to complete 600 Christmas baskets for 1,710 people. Last year, the Whittier Ecumenical Council provided food for 1,150 people. "If we have to, we'll go to the store and buy the food ourselves," Woudenberg said.

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