By Lee Tugas
It’s not easy to get a hard estimate of just how many toys were handed out to needy children Sunday in Whitehall.
There are several reasons for that, but the main one is that Jim Lafayette, the local Toys for Tots event chairman, keeps shopping for toys.
As promised, Lafayette, of Whitehall American Legion Post 83, reported to Wal-Mart last Friday with $2,000 in his pocket. Thanks to a helpful Wal-Mart staff, he said he returned to Whitehall with enough toys to fill two pick-up trucks.
Those toys were placed in the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company firehouse for distribution to registered families. The toys were separated into two categories, those for boys and those for girls.
On Sunday at 11:15 p.m., the second batch of toys rolled down the tracks to stop at the Amtrak station. U.S. Marines, from Fox Company, 2nd battalion, based in Albany, got off the train and distributed one toy per child. The Legionnaires helped the Marines hand out those toys.
Amtrak rail officials were also in attendance, but the major guests were Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, who handed out cookies and donuts, while the Marines and Legionnaires handed out toys and winter jackets.
Lafayette did not have an estimate on how many people greeted the Toys for Tots Train. But he did have an estimate on how many children came.
“Toys were bagged for 150 children,” Lafayette said.
Considering that two parents generally accompany their child to these kinds of events, it is safe to estimate that the crowd at the station was close to 500.
What is nearly impossible to figure out is how many toys were distributed. Children received toys at the station and at the firehouse. But that was not the end of it.
“We Veterans are a pretty soft-hearted bunch,” Lafayette said.
By Monday, Legionnaires had discovered that 27 children had somehow not gotten a toy. Tired perhaps from his Friday shopping spree, Lafayette dispatched his friend Phyllis Fisher of Hudson Falls, a native of Whitehall, to Wal-Mart.
Somehow another $1,000 had been collected and given to Fisher to buy toys for those 27 still lacking toys. Those toys are ready at the Whitehall Firehouse to be picked up before Christmas.