TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — A local tradition makes the holidays a little more merry for hundreds of children in Tompkins County every year by distributing thousands of toys to those in need.

For nearly four decades, Cops, Kids and Toys has provided toys to kids in need in Tompkins County during the holidays. Every law enforcement agency in the county, plus the probation department, Bangs Ambulance, the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response and many volunteers keep the program going.

Cops, Kids and Toys started with two Ithaca police officers in the early 1980s, Bill Apgar, president of the Cops, Kids and Toys’ board, said. The officers were responding to a home for a domestic call around the holidays. They went into the house and arrested a man but found when they were inside that there was a little “Charlie Brown Christmas tree” with nothing under it, Apgar said. When police talked to the woman in the house, they found out the children were not getting anything for Christmas. So, after the call the officers went out and collected money and brought gifts to the children.

Since then, the program has “blossomed,” Apgar said. Nearly 1,300 children in Tompkins County will receive toys this holiday season. Anyone under 18 who is a resident or goes to a school in Tompkins County is eligible to be in the program. The last day to apply is Friday, Dec. 1.

The program fills a need in the community because Toys for Tots, a national toy distribution program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, does not reach Tompkins County.

Apgar has been a part of the program for about 25 years and said some people have been volunteering even longer. “Anything we can do along the lines of helping children, it’s going to pay off in the long run,” Apgar said.

Cops, Kids and Toys is an all-year effort. Volunteers collect cans at Grassroots, help at the Cornell Dump & Run Sale, host events and set up bins at about 60 locations across the county.

Leading up to the distribution in December, volunteers collect toys that have been donated in bins, do a fill-the-truck event at Walmart and take inventory and purchase the rest of the toys needed during a massive shopping trip to Walmart.

A couple days before the big distribution day, this year Dec. 19, thousands of toys for children of all ages will be stacked high in a space at Triphammer Marketplace. Over a period of about two days, volunteers will stuff bags with about four presents for each child that reflect their age and gender. Though they can’t cater to a specific list for each child, they do try to honor suggestions and special needs indicated. After all the bags, donated by Wegmans, are stuffed and labeled, local law enforcement officers and volunteers will deliver the toys.

Applications to sign up are available online and volunteers are always needed. For more information about Cops, Kids and Toys, visit their website.

Featured image: File photo of Cops, Kids and Toys during toy packing in 2016 by Jolene Almendarez/Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.