Toys for Tots Web App

Bob Morse

Toys for Tots, a program sponsored by the Marine Corps Reserve, puts donated toys into the hands of children who might otherwise not have much under the tree for the holidays. The program locally seems to grow each year, both in the area it covers (this year Humboldt and Trinity counties  and some parts of Mendocino) and in the raw number of childeren in need and toys to dispense. It presents quite a logistical problem: Identifying children, gathering toys, and putting the two together in time for Christmas.

Normally the data gathering, tracking and logistics were all handled with paper forms and manually entered in to spreadsheets. It was time consuming, prone to error and limiting the program in the number of children it could serve. Four years ago Gregg Gardiner, owner of 101 Things to Do, fellow Rotarian and chairman of the local Toys for Tots effort asked us if there was some way we could help them with their efforts.

It seemed, on the surface, to be a fairly straightforward task that Drupal could handle. Indeed, in short order we had built a web application in Drupal 6 using Content Contsruction Kit, Views and a few other supporting modules.  Representatives from each school, social services and others in the region could enter data on families, the number of children, their ages and gender. The system calculated totals automatically which gave them instant updates on the number of toys they would need to gather. We created views so Toys for Tots administrators could generate reports for each distribution center. And, when the time came the data could be epported from  the site's database, opened in Excel, printed out and used to manage an track the distriubutions. As Gregg Gardiner, owner of 101 Things to Do and director of the regional Toys for Tots effort explains:

Toys for Tots serves some 6000 children in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino and Del Norte Counties. We had a huge problem, we didn't know what children were where nor what age or gender they were. So, it was always panic time when we started to distribute the toys. We never knew if we had enough, or if we had the right toys in the right places. The problem solvers at Morse Media came to our rescue. They developed a plan that would let us track everything. Now I have all the information my fingertips. I know by December 1st how many toys I need and where they need to be. If you're looking for someone who's a problem solver, then Morse Media is the company to deal with.

The system worked well. So well, in fact, that the program has been able to handle many more children than before, cover more area and all with much more efficiency and accuracy. Each year since we have added refinements and tools to make administration easier. And now, after all this experience using the tools, and our experience with Drupal 7 we have rebuilt the site from the ground up to make it even easier to use and manage data.

For the record, the site is here. There isn't much to see until you have an account and login. Then, depending on your role in the system you have all the tools you need to enter and track requests for toys.

Building, maintaining, hosting and extending this web app for Toys for Tots has been a great way for us to give a holiday gift back to the community that has sustained our business for so long.