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Widow Of Former Marine Who Started Toy Drive In Honor Of Late Husband Says Donations Are Desperately Needed

BERNARDSVILLE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The widow of a Marine who started a toy drive in honor of her husband is asking for help.

She says right now, donations are way down due to COVID and toy shortages.

Tonianne VanDerveer and her niece Alexandra Daras started collecting toys for the Marines' Toys for Tots three years ago shortly after VanDerveer's husband, Jamie, died from cancer. He was just 50 years old.

Two weeks before he passed away, he told Tonianne she would need to get some toys.

"'I need you to go buy toys for the Toys for Tots for the Marine Corps. I've been buying them for over 20 years.' And I never knew that," VanDerveer said.

READ MORE: Family Carries On Marine's Legacy Of Helping Children In Need Through Holiday Season

Jamie was a proud Marine and enlisted right after high school.

In his honor, Tonianne started a toy drive and nonprofit called Operation Jamie's Angels.

"Jamie would say to all of his treating nurses, 'Have you ever heard of Charlie's Angels?' And they would say yes, and he would give them this Guardian Angel bracelet and say, 'Well now, you're one of Jamie's Angels,'" VanDerveer said.

Jamie passed in November of 2019, so this time of year is especially painful.

"How has this helped your heart in healing with your loss?" CBS2's Cindy Hsu asked.

"It gives me purpose during the holidays because losing Jamie was horrible," VanDerveer said. "So if I can do this for children, it's a no-brainer."

In 2020, they were able to collect $30,000 worth of toys to pass on to the Marines.

READ MORE: Widow Of Former Marine Says Nonprofit Toy Drive In New Jersey Desperately Needs Help From Public

This year, the drive is struggling. The storage unit is normally full of toys, but now along with COVID, they face supply chain issues and toy shortages.

"The shelves are empty in a lot of the stores, and it's hard to be able to just go and grab something like a few years back," Daras said. "And inflation as well because everything is going up in cost."

Donations are being collected at Daras' store, the Pretty Pink Rooster in Bernardsville, and online through an Amazon wish list. Nearly all the toys are under $20.

"It may seem like a little, inconsequential thing, but to a child who looks forward to Christmas every year for joy and hope, it means something," VanDerveer said.

The toy drive continues through Dec. 8. To view the Amazon wish list for Operation Jamie's Angels, click here.

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