If the goodness of a city and its people could be amassed and stored in a warehouse, this was the place.
The scene at Guardian Storage Solutions on Friday was one of controlled frenzy, as several dozen volunteers scurried about, wading through unimaginable mountains of donated toys, stuffing them into giant plastic bags and running them out to grateful parents.
The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, funded in part by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund, held the first of its two open houses in the Strip District, as hundreds lined up in the biting cold to accept the generosity of their fellow citizens.
Volunteers from Pittsburgh Cares processed the orders based on the ages and gender of each family's children. Personnel from the Marines and the Navy turned each order slip into a bounty of Christmas joy -- games, stuffed animals, puzzles, dolls, scooters, bicycles.
Avida Porter of Clairton carried a bag of games, LEGO building blocks and toys for her 8- and 10-year-old sons. "This means there will be something under the Christmas tree when there otherwise might not be anything," the single mom said. "This is such a blessing."
The program distributed 56,000 toys last year, and by the looks of things on Friday, that number was being surpassed. One Toys for Tots promotion, Stuff-a-Bus, sponsored by radio station 96.1 KISS, yielded 21,854 toys, enough to fill 42 buses.
"I'm always surprised by how generous Pittsburgh people are. I shouldn't be by now. It's amazing," said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Tonisue Ranger, a Colorado native who served as the campaign coordinator this year. "The city deserves to know how awesome they are. This is the most amazing Toys for Tots program I've seen in 18 years of doing this."
In addition to the open houses, the second of which is today, the Marines are filling orders placed by more than 200 nonprofit and charitable agencies across the district.
Sgt. Ranger remembered being helped by Toys for Tots when she was a low-paid lance corporal in Colorado. "I got a handmade wooden rocking chair and wooden step stool, which I still have," she said. "That's why it's a program that's near and dear to my heart."
By the time the toys are gone, some 450 volunteers will have helped sort and deliver them, said Amanda Trocki, director of corporate programs for Pittsburgh Cares. Among them on Friday were students from Brentwood High School. "They actually made toys that they're giving out today," she said.
"There's no way we could do the work we do without our volunteers," she said.
Contributions to Goodfellows are an important part of the effort, Sgt. Ranger said. Goodfellows is a holiday tradition that dates to 1947. Each year, Post-Gazette readers step up for the less fortunate among us, with a goal of ensuring that all children experience the joy of finding gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.
Donations are tax-deductible and can be made using the coupon that accompanies this story or online at www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows. Every donation is acknowledged in the pages of the Post-Gazette.
As she left the warehouse Friday with blocks, dolls, stuffed animals and games for her three girls, ages 2, 4 and 6, Anika Hatcher of Wilkinsburg offered a simple but exuberant message to all who made it possible: "Thank you, God bless and Merry Christmas!"
How to get toys
The second and final open house will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Guardian Storage Solutions, 2839 Liberty Ave., Strip District. Parents and guardians are required to bring photo ID for themselves, a birth certificate for each child (children up to age 12 are eligible) and proof of need: an EBT card, Access card or SNAP card.
Today's total: $5,481
Grand total $45,380.83
John and Anne Simon $500
Scott, Rachel and Cameron Schuster $400
Rhonda Anderson $200
Tim, Carrie and Patrick Stanny $200
Bev Honchorek $150
The Cross family $125
Joyce and Don Vance $100
David Dzombak and Carolyn Menard $100
Gerry and Louise Cipriani $100
Dr. and Mrs. Louis H. Mackey $100
Carol Galata $100
Elizabeth McPeak $100
In honor of Ben, Dan and Kara Getkin $100
In memory of Virginia Salamone from Larry Salamone Jr. $100
Stephanie Concelman $100
Fay and Tom Wright $100
L. Stephen Kline $100
Signal Mountain Communications Inc. $100
K.M. Smith $100
Andrea, Benjamin and Christopher $65
In memory of Joseph and Minnie Nichol and Fran and Kay Kitchen $60
N. and L. Anderson $60
Marilyn Datt $50
Daniel G. Kamin $50
Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Uhl $50
Jack and Jill $50
Jacquelyn Ridley $50
Ronald Yingling $50
Jim and Pat Welsh $50
John M. Plavetich $50
Arlene Ferrante $50
In memory of Michael Davis $50
Ray Adams $50
Carol Robinson $50
Mr. Eugene Murphy $50
In memory of Clara Marie Petrauskas $50
In memory of Zak Piekarski $50
Harry and Pat Martig $40
Don and Connie Lucas $40
Donald J. Myers $35
Joe Sambuco $30
John and Christine Chapas $30
Olabrice Wilkerson $30
Paul Patuc $30
In memory of Harry J. Killmeyer $27
In memory of Elizabeth V. Craig - Thanks Mum! $26
In memory of Joan E. Smyczek - Thanks Mum! $26
Peter G. Faines $25
Mr. William R. Easton $25
Bruce and Nancy Christopher $25
Gerald and Donna Fisher $25
Jim and Pat McGoogan $25
In memory of Morgan and Kathryn Newhouse $25
In memory of Mary Grace, our granddaughter. Ed and Betty Blacka $25
Mr. and Mrs. P. $25
Robert Barker $25
In memory of The Morgan and Vukson Families $25
In memory of Bob and Bobby Howard. $25
The Ken Brandy family $25
In memory of Henry and Mary Leo and Bud and Millie Becker $25
David Koett family $20
In memory of Jay Briggs $20
Paul Inzinga $20
Dolores Manslow $20
In memory of John J. Filipcic $20
John Dollar $20
Honora E. McCarthy $20
Eileen Louis $20
Cindy Miller $20
LeeAnn and Lorraine Whitehouse $20
Sandra J. Linkes $20
Anne Kravetz $20
Ruth McMillen $20
Joseph Scripko $20
Peggy and Mort Parker $20
Coletta Sporrer $20
Louise Farrell $20
Krista Reitz $20
Mary Hovis $20
In memory of Marie L. Lutz $15
The Groff family $15
Allyson and Kylee $10
Patricia Steinhart $10
G. Schlicht $10
John Sawhill $10
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868.