It has been a challenging year for the Ridgefield Marines. As with every other service organization in Fairfield County, they have conducted their regular community activities while battling both the economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic, a press release said.

But now they face a still greater test. It's the opening weeks of their legendary Toys for Tots campaign program, and the Marine Veterans of Fairfield County must pick up, organize and properly distribute the more than 30,000 new toys that pass through their Ridgefield headquarters building every year in the weeks before Christmas.

In 2019, when times were simpler, the Marines collected and distributed more than 30,000 unwrapped games, dolls, footballs, skateboards and dozens of other toys and sports items. The need is expected to be greater this year because of the pandemic, but getting the job done is expected to be tougher because of health restrictions, the information also said.

Some of the toys are donated one at a time to large collection boxes. More than 150 collection boxes were spotted around the county in 2019, mainly at retail outlets where people congregate such as gasoline stations and bank branch offices. Toys are also shipped directly to the Marines' Ridgefield headquarters from wholesale toy distributors. Cash donations to the program are also used to buy toys.

A large group of volunteers, including wives and friends of the local Marine vets, work with churches, youth groups and other charitable organizations, to plan and participate in getting the toys to churches and youth clubs. This year, 2020, because of economic and health concerns, at least 10 percent more toys need to be donated and distributed.

Henry Norley, who is a longtime member of the Marine organization and a coordinator of the Toys for Tots campaign program that includes a dozen communities in Fairfield County, says the Marines must be very careful in controlling the distribution.

"It might seem easy to simply dump 30,000 toys into our area, but we need to assure they go to the neediest children," Norley said. "We're very fortunate to work closely with a great group of fire and police chiefs, school and social services officials and church leaders to make sure this program works the way it should. Sometimes these are the only toys these kids get all year, and that puts a huge responsibility on us and our partners to get it right," Norley said.

For toy collection box locations people can go to toysfortots.org and click on the town where they live.

The towns for the Marines Veterans of Fairfield County Toys for Tots campaign program, according to its website are: Bethel, Wilton, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Ridgefield and Weston.