Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Volunteers Millard Davis, left, Miker Sherberger, back right, and Fred Sherberger assemble bicycles on Friday at the Toys for Tots warehouse in Nocross. The Atlanta campaign is one of the largest in the country and serves 17 counties.
NORCROSS -- Inside a non-descript 57,000-square-foot warehouse located on Best Friend Road, a handful of volunteers empty vans and trucks filled with new, unwrapped toys.
It must mean that Toys for Tots is hard at work and this year, the greatest needs are gifts for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 12 years old.
"We always need gifts for this age," media coordinator Cherrie Carney said. "I think we always have a problem because it's a weird age to shop for."
Friday morning's small group of workers built bikes, emptied trash bags and moved pallets -- for free.
"Everything we have is donated. Nobody gets paid," Carney said. "Everything is volunteer work. I think 95 percent of the monetary funds raised went back to buying toys last year."
The volunteers -- both in the warehouse and on the board -- work from October to January collecting, sorting and distributing toys for the boys and girls of metro Atlanta for no reason other than for smiles on Christmas Day.
Companies and individuals donate food and water for the workers. The actual warehouse space is donated year to year, although for the past four years, it has been located somewhere in Gwinnett County.
"This space was donated by a company named Prolodges, but every year we have to find space," Carney said. "If anyone has warehouse space in Gwinnett County that they're willing to donate for us to store our stuff until next season, that would be great. We have to be out of here by Jan. 15."
From the Norcross location, Toys for Tots supports 17 metro counties. Last year, the organization collected and distributed 723,000 toys, which helped 360,000 kids.
As of last Wednesday, it distributed 154,000 toys for the year.
"I know that the next two weeks are going to be the heaviest loads," Carney said. "I would say prior to this week ... there were a lot of empty bins. It's slow starting. Our goal would be to meet last year's numbers or exceed last year's numbers, but you don't have an indication at the end of the season if that happened."
And the group tries to use everything given to them.
"We received hundreds of popcorn containers that are going to be used to hold stocking stuffers," Warehouse Manager Maria Teague said while looking at the seven bins full of the containers. "We also received a ton of puzzles. We're holding on to most of them because I would hate for an agency to have all of the same things (given to them)."
When donations are brought to the warehouse, volunteers unpack the boxes, then sort the toys by age and sex. Some toys aren't up to Toys for Tots' standards in quality, so the damaged goods are either repaired and given to agencies or donated to the Salvation Army.
"Sometimes all they need is a piece of tape, and it's good as new," Teague said.
With the holidays around the corner, the nonprofit is feeling the crunch.
"The need is great everywhere (in the metro)," Carney said. "Last year, we distributed a lot of toys, but there was still demand we couldn't meet. ... We can only supply one gift and a stocking stuffer per child, but at least it's something for them."
Want to help? Today, there is a Great Toy Drop in Norcross. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Publix at the intersection of Holcomb Bridge Road and Peachtree Industrial is collecting toys. Some of the special guests during the event include U.S. Marines, former Atlanta Braves player Ron Gant, the Gwinnett Gladiators' mascot Maximus the Lion and Falcons cheerleaders.
If you can't make this event, there are more than 140 drop boxes located in metro Atlanta. Many of them can be found at a local Publix store.
Toys for Tots takes toys appropriate for ages infant to 12 years old.