Cars stretched for over a mile from University Mall all the way down McFarland Boulevard past Snow Hinton Park Friday morning as the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation handed out free Christmas gifts to families in need at the old Fire College.

The Toys for Tots nonprofit organization was started in 1947 by the United States Marine Corps Reserve as a means to raise money and distribute toys to provide for families in need during the Christmas season

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Marine Reservists, with the help of over 30 volunteers from Paul Bryant High School and others from the community, distributed toys to at least 400 cars Thursday and another 1,500 Friday.

(Noah Lueker, Townsquare Media)

The widespread financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic this year naturally made the event more important than ever, according to Marine Reservist Gunnery Sergeant Sheldon McCartney, who led the Tuscaloosa event. The number of families served this year more than doubled over 2019, when the Tuscaloosa Toys for Tots program distributed gifts to around 800 families.

"This is a very important day for us," said McCartney. "We want kids to wake up with a smile on their face on Christmas. Every kid deserves that, and so this gives them that opportunity."

McCartney said that this wouldn't have been possible without the help of the City of Tuscaloosa for their efforts to raise both money and awareness for the event, the Tuscaloosa Police Department for their help directing traffic this week, and The University of Alabama, who permitted the use of the old Fire College to serve as a distribution site.

McCartney said the nonprofit raised around $21,000 this year across various sites in Tuscaloosa but had to spend $45,000 on toys this year due to the increased demand. He said the group hopes to recoup some of this year's losses through several fundraising events yet to be announced.

The toy distribution will run until 3:00 p.m. Friday and families will have one last chance to pick up toys on Monday morning at the old Fire College.

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