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      Coast Guard will escort Santa for Toys for Tots

      The U.S. Coast Guard will fly a different kind of relief exercise next week as they escort Santa to start the annual Toys for Tots campaign.

      This year's kickoff event on November 17th will feature children's activities, refreshments, tours of the Coast Guard Helicopter, police and fire displays, and even a chance to visit with Santa. The event takes place at the Great Wolf Lodge, starting at noon.

      The event will conclude with Santa flying off with the Coast Guard at 2 pm.

      While the event is free, participants are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots. Those people who make a donation will be eligible to win door prizes.

      Last year, the campaign collected a record 25,000 toys that were distributed to an estimated 8,000 children in the region. This year, campaign organizers say the expect to see even more requests for assistance.

      "The agencies we serve are all telling us that there is even greater need in the region than last year," said Maggie Kent, the Toys for Tots coordinator for Northwest Michigan.

      Northwest Michigan Toys for Tots works in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, Antrim and Benzie Counties. They work through nearly all human service agencies, including Father Fred, Salvation Army and Goodwill Inn. Toys for Tots also collaborates with other counties to assure that no child goes without toys at Christmas.

      More than 100 Toys for Tots collection boxes are distributed throughout the region, and most are clearly identified by signs. Donation sites in our area include Toys R Us, Bill Marsh Auto and Fox Motors.