It's a reminder that Black Friday wasn't for everybody.

The Marine Corps' annual Toys for Tots Twin Cities campaign, which kicks off Monday, will collect Christmas toys for thousands of needy families. That's been a difficult task in recent years because donations fell as the economy worsened -- but the Marines press on.

"In these hard times right now a lot of children really need these toys and it's far-reaching," said Commandant Joe Witherill of the Metro Marine Command. "Donations have been down, but requests have definitely gone way up."

The contingent of retired Marines supplies much of the muscle needed to move, sort and package the massive drive. Marines in active duty and reserve status at Fort Snelling coordinate the metro toy drive, which will continue through Dec. 22.

In 2010, Toys for Tots distributed more than 300,000 toys in Minnesota.

Many of the 400 members of Metro Marines work at the Toys for Tots warehouse in Eagan. The group has helped with the toy drive since 1992 and also supplies meals to Marines coordinating the program, Witherill said.

On any given day, as many as 35 Metro Marines will work in the warehouse, he said. About five of them will show up day after day until the warehouse closes for the season, he said.

Here's what's needed

Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys that are distributed to families through social services agencies. While toys are needed for all age groups, more donations are needed for infants and for boys and girls ages 13 to 16, Witherill said.

In the midst of its 2009 season, Toys for Tots in the Twin Cities struggled to collect enough toys because of joblessness from the economic recession. Donations had fallen 50 percent while requests had jumped 60 percent.

Last year presented a similar challenge, Witherill said, but he's confident that the Marines will make the best of a tough situation.

"They don't do this for recognition; they do it because they're Marines," he said.

For further information concerning where to drop off toys, how to request them and who to contact, see the Toys for Tots website at

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles