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Cities of Lost Toys

Cities of Lost Toys
by Jennifer LB Leese

No matter what your background, religion, or circumstance, everyone is touched when they hear the news that disaster has befallen a community. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires can suddenly change the lifestyle of a family, community and country.
In 2000, the United Nations launched the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) to address the underlying causes of vulnerability and to build disaster-resilient communities by promoting increased awareness of the importance of disaster reduction as an integral component of sustainable development, with the goal of reducing human, social, economic and environmental losses due to hazards of all kinds. According to ISDR, the total number of natural disaster has increased, dramatically since the 1960s, with floods being the highest named disaster.

Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was the eleventh named tropical storm, fifth hurricane, third major hurricane, and first Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the third most powerful storm of the season, and the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. Katrina formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005, crossing southern Florida before strengthening rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico, becoming the strongest hurricane in the Central Gulf since Hurricane Camille. The storm weakened considerably before making its second landfall as an extremely large Category 3 storm on the morning of August 29 along the Central Gulf Coast near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana.
The storm surge from Katrina caused catastrophic damage along the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
When disaster strikes, panic and stress sets in, infecting many in mammoth proportions and at a rapid pace. They desperately try to flee the area. Once they have found a safe-haven, it's time to start rebuilding and getting necessary goods and supplies. Without intention, kids are often lost in the shuffle.
Katrina's Toybox, a Smithsburg-based non-profit organization, is looking to help those children. They are dedicated and driven by the hospitality of volunteers. Families have it hard enough without having to worry about replacing their children's toys immediately.
Katrina's Toybox started as a temporary short term toy drive in September 2005 to help children who have lost their toys in the Katrina disaster. "I have had lots of help from neighbors," says Dottie Gruhler, founder of Katrina's Toybox.
After a radio station in the south broadcasted Katrina's Toybox information, Dottie got a huge response. Her receiving 10 emails a week jumped to 10 emails an hour. "The list grew to thousands of children." Dottie got in touch with Red Cross and Salvation Army. She also gets names of children and families from FEMA and their local groups. Now knowing that thousands of children were toyless, she decided that "Katrina's Toybox will be a toy disaster distribution center."
"The list of children [in need] isn't getting any smaller," she says. Because of this and wanting to help the community locally, Dottie turned Katrina's Toybox and its mission to a full-time effort. "People are very giving."
"I can't replace everything. I send a pretty good-size box of toys to them."
Katrina's Toybox is in the process of getting their non-profit status. With no overhead, working from out of her home, the organization spends all monetary donations on shipping and purchasing new toys for age groups she doesn't currently have in storage.

Who They Help
This local organization helps any child, any age, anywhere in the country who has lost their toys due to disaster. Katrina's Toybox can and will help get new toys to them.
If you know of a family with children who has lost everything, call Dottie Gruhler and tell her about it. "I would never turn down any child." Dottie goes on to say, "I will need to know the age and gender of each child so I know what to pack in the box." Dottie and volunteers do a verification process back-checking previous addresses of Katrina victims.

How Others Have Helped
Toys for Tots, a large nationally known organization for kids, delivered a truck full of toys to Katrina's Toybox to aid in their task. "There were over 3,000 toys!" This made it easier for Dottie to distribute toys faster to children in need.
Katrina's Toybox ships right to the family's doorstep. "They don't have to worry about going anywhere to pick up the toys for their kids." They have delivered 5,500 toys so far. "We need a steady pace of donations in order to have a steady pace of deliveries."

Fundraising and Donations
Katrina's Toybox accepts new toys because the cleansing and disinfecting process takes way too long. "Children get the toys faster."
"Local churches and schools have been awesome with organizing toy drives and giving generous donations," says Dottie. These tax-deductible donations help this charitable organization with shipping and purchasing age-appropriate toys.
Katrina's Toybox partners with Katrina's Angels, a non-profit agency who coordinates housing, jobs and resources for the survivors of major natural disasters. "We work off each other," says Dottie.

Needed Items
New toys of all ages are needed, however, "when most people think of toys, they think within the 4-9 age group; I have plenty of that," says Dottie. What Katrina's Toybox lacks the most are toys for infants, pre-teens ages 10-12, and teenagers ages 13 to 18. Dottie believes in sending items to children up to 18 years of age because "They're still kids who have lost everything."
Items needed include: infant toys, stuffed animals, crayons, books, games, journals, make-up kids for girls, stationary sets, CD players, sports equipment, CDs, handheld games, small radios, bath kits, and electronics, etc.
Katrina's Toybox is not just for Christmas. They are year-round. "Getting kids toys is our top priority."
To send toys, monetary funds, or to help out, call Dottie Gruhler at 301-824-1048.

Volunteers are needed. "It wouldn't benefit the kids if I couldn't keep up," admits Dottie.
Katrina's Toybox needs volunteers to help with distributing, packing up toys, delivering locally, typing e-mails, making phone calls, picking up toy donation bins, and finding new places to place these bins. "Just give as much time as you can," says Dottie.
I believe that this would be a great opportunity for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to get involved with and it makes a great project for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Being new to all this, Dottie is looking for someone to help them learn about being a non-profit organization. "If an accountant would like to take the time by teaching us what to do and what not to do with the IRS, that would be awesome!"

You can contact Dottie directly by calling her home number: 301-824-1048; emailing; writing to: Katrina's Toybox, P.O. Box 362, Smithsburg, Maryland 21783, or by visiting
Dottie would like those in the community who donate--even if it is $10--know that "it could be you who needs help next time".

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