Toys for Tots is a national program of the Marine Corps Reserve that distributes toys to needy children each Christmas. The local chapter works through every school (public and private) throughout Humboldt and Trinity Counties. It’s quite a logistical feat to identify and contact each family, provide a count of the number of eligible children in each community and note their gender, age and location where their toys will be distributed.

Previously,  this was all done on paper and the numbers had to be gathered from each school and entered on to spreadsheets by Toys for Tots volunteers.  But this October Gregg Gardiner, owner and publisher of 101 Things to Do and the local coordinator of Toys for Tots asked me if there was any way to create an application that would help them manage this tracking and logistical nightmare. Oh, and it had to be ready by November 1.

i thought for a minute after getting some more details about their process and figured this was a job that Drupal could easily handle. In a few days, using just Content Construction Kit and Views modules we created a basic system that would allow Toys for Tots Marine Reserve Programrepresentatives from each school, social services and Toys for Tots volunteers to enter data quickly.  And we created reports for the Toys for Tots administrators that tabulated the number of children by age and gender that someone would be picking up toys for at one of the several distribution centers.

Of course, it wasn’t all that simple. Once we had something up to look at and test, we went through many tweaks and additional views to help Gregg track what was going on. Then we installed a third module, Mass Contact to allow Gregg to send out an email to all the participants.

As a first iteration of a web app it seems to be working well and Drupal is able to handle changes and new features very quickly. This is necessary since we’re in to Christmas season and there is a narrow window of activity to get things done.

And when this comes around next year we’ll have time to refine this even further. I’d like to put some design time in to the site and flesh it out for a more public face (that’s why there’s no link to the web app for now). It was fun to lend our skills in support of a great program. I hope the kids have a happy Christmas and the volunteers have an easier time making that happen.

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