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story.lead_photo.caption Representatives with Cargill, including California Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Howard, presented Moniteau County Toys for Tots Program Coordinator Dan Mesey with a $500 donation Nov. 6, 2019. Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

Like most things this calendar year, Toys for Tots of Moniteau County is affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Toys for Tots is in its fourth year in Moniteau County, annually serving more than 300 children in families earning below the poverty line on average throughout the county. Last year, 376 children received 1,519 toys distributed through Toys for Tots.

With the pandemic still ongoing, Moniteau County Toys for Tots Program Coordinator Dan Mesey said he would expect that number to climb even higher in 2020.

"Because of the virus and the layoffs (its caused) and in many cases businesses just closing, we are suspecting an increase in the amount of children we serve," Mesey said. "We have a little concern about being able to provide enough toys, so anything that anybody can do to help us in regards to donating money for these toys would really be appreciated."

Mesey said the virus is a real concern, especially because of how it can affect timelines for the toy distributors and trucking firms the program relies on for its donations.

Consequently, Mesey said, Toys for Tots is trying to plan far enough ahead to account for any potential delays. As a result, Toys for Tots of Moniteau County has already begun distributing toy applications throughout the county's school systems, a few weeks earlier than usual.

Mesey said there are two timelines for applications — school applications must be returned by Oct. 1, while other applications such as those distributed by the Moniteau County Health Department or the food bank must be returned by Oct. 30.

Mesey said, as in normal years, collection boxes will be set up at area businesses and other locations to collect toy donations, with the final collection date set for Dec. 15. Families will be able to pick up the toys Dec. 19 at the Cowboy Church in Tipton, located at 7001 Hwy 50.

Mesey said collecting toy donations won't be too different this year, since Toys for Tots usually will not accept donations that aren't in their original packaging anyway, but distribution will see some pandemic-induced changes.

"We're going to have the volunteers. When we go to sort these toys into age groups and gender and get them to the different families, we're confronted with the possibility of contracting (COVID-19)," Mesey said. "So we have to take steps. The Marine Corps sent us, for our volunteers, face masks and hand sanitizers, but that's not conclusive. That's not a sure thing. You have to take as (many) precautions as you can."

Mesey said, as it stands, families coming for toy pick up in December will be required to wear face masks. Distribution will also likely take a longer amount of time than usual, Mesey said, since volunteers will probably need to limit the amount of people inside the building picking up donations at once. Where distribution took a couple hours last year, the doors will be open for a much longer period this time around, with a specific window to be set at a later date.

Last year, Mesey said donation checks are the best way for businesses and individuals countywide to support the program monetarily, due to the regulations required by the United States Marine Corps. Those interested in donating should contact Mesey at [email protected] — checks are preferred and should read "Pay to the order of Moniteau County Toys for Tots." More information about Toys for Tots in Moniteau County can be found at california-mo.toysfortots.org.

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