PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - As closing time drew near Friday, many Jackson County parents lingered around the Toys for Tots warehouse, waiting for toys. Parents stood outside for hours as Toys for Tots volunteers called out numbers over a megaphone, allowing them inside in small numbers to pick out the perfect holiday gifts for their children.
Toys for Tots organizers said the rush started early, and hundreds of parents walked through their doors throughout the day. They said the down economy brought plenty of needy families to Toys for Tots for the first time this year and many at the last minute.
"See these people," said Toys for Tots organizer Mike Ulrich, pointing at the crowd. "These are last minute people that still need toys."
Thanks to an outpouring of community donations, each parent left Friday with toys for their children. Ulrich said he was concerned that goal might not be met earlier in the season when he realized this year's astounding need.
"I was getting the families registered, but the toys weren't there," Ulrich said. "And I was getting really worried. We put the word out there we needed toys, and they delivered."
Crystal Countryman, a last-minute beneficiary, is thankful the community came through.
"My little boy keeps asking me what he's going to get, and he only has like 1 or 2 toys. So I don't really have anything to tell him," Countryman said. "Times are getting really hard this year. I mean, I work, but I only make minimum wage. And it's just really tough right now."
Countryman said she never thought she'd need a charity like Toys for Tots and never signed up for the program. She said she's relieved they opened their doors to her.
"It breaks my heart to know that I'm struggling," said Countryman. "And my kids wouldn't get a good Christmas if it wasn't for people like this that donate toys to needy families."
Friday alone, organizers say the charity provided toys for 650 unregistered children.
"It's been real record-breaking," Ulrich said. "Not only did we raise the toys, but we broke numbers as far as helping families this year."
Karen Thomas appreciates the help.
"It means a whole lot to me and the kids," Thomas said. "I sure appreciate them helping out, and God will bless everybody."
More donated toys are expected to arrive Saturday morning as distribution continues.
"We will not let a child go without a toy this Christmas," Ulrich said.
Distribution starts up again around 8 Saturday morning at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.
Anyone interested in contacting the Jackson County Toys for Tots program can call them at (228) 219-TOYS.