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updated 9/25/2009 4:06:31 PM ET 2009-09-25T20:06:31

We’re getting ready for the holiday season! TODAY is kicking off its 16th Annual Holiday Toy and Gift Drive for needy families all over the United States.

Imagine if there were no toys. The fact is that poverty in America has hit its highest rate since the Depression. Even though there are signs of economic recovery, it’s expected that it will be several years before there will be improvement for those who have lost homes and lost jobs.

This holiday season, nearly one in five children will be living below the poverty level right here in the United States.

Parents are barely able to house, feed and clothe these children — a special present is simply out of the question. There will be no toys to put a smile on their little faces this holiday season unless you help. Even the smallest gift will be appreciated.

More than ever, we need you to help us take the stress off these families and make the holidays a special time of year, a time to forget unemployment and unpaid bills. It's time to help these families enjoy the spirit of the season with their children.

Hearing about so many dire situations and knowing that donations are down for some many nonprofits, we are proud to continue TODAY's long tradition of reaching beyond the looking glass of Studio 1A and into the lives of families in underserved communities all over the United States again in 2009.

Contact us now!

If you are interested in making a contribution, and all donations are appreciated, no matter how big or small, please call 212-664-7508 and talk to either Sam Sagenkahn or Kate Cook at the Toy Drive. We hope to hear from you.

Last holiday season, TODAY viewers, website visitors and corporate contributors teamed up to provide nearly $28.5 million worth of toys, books, games, clothing, toiletries, electronics, musical instruments, CDs, videos, cosmetics and other suitable gifts to more than five million children via 203 organizations in all 50 states.

TODAY has distributed more than $200 million in donations since 1994. The TODAY Show Toy Drive became the first independent gift drive in morning show history. The unique program is designed to provide gifts for impoverished children and teenagers up to age 18 nationwide. This year's effort has already begun, with items being shipped early to communities who have dire need to house and clothe millions of children. It's now time to reach out to every viewer. Please help us during these trying times to give a gift to every child on our list. For many of them, we are the ONLY source of gifts for the holidays.

On the air
The Toy Drive is now a Rockefeller Center tradition. Surprise celebrities visit the crowd each morning to gather up their donations. Among those who came to help in past years have been George Clooney, Jon Hamm, Hillary Swank, Jim Carrey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Jack Black, Kevin Bacon, Scarlett Johannson, Samuel L. Jackson, Josh and Drake, Edie Falco, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ashanti, Paula Abdul, Rick Springfield, Sting, LL Cool J, Chris Isaak, Harry Connick, Jr., Martin Sheen, Julie Andrews, Lynn Redgrave, NY Mets manager Willie Randolph, Robin Williams, NY Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Joe Torre, Henry Kissinger, Yogi Berra, Katy Perry, Joe Perry from Aerosmith, Dustin Hoffman, Fall Out Boy, Susan Lucci, Molly Shannon, Donald Trump, Jimmy Smits, Phylicia Rashad, LeAnn Rimes, Jason Mraz, NASCAR'S Kurt Busch and Jimmy Buffett. Who knows who we’ll see wearing the Santa hat collecting toys from the crowd. You’ve got to be here to see!

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Major donations from corporations will begin to appear on the show beginning November 23. Starting the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30), we're urging all the visitors to Rockefeller Plaza to join in the fun and bring a gift for a child up to age 18 and donate it live to a surprise guest, on camera every day until December 23rd. So if you're planning a trip to New York, be sure to pack a gift for a child in need.

If you can't make it to Rockefeller Center to donate, be sure to tune in for special announcements on how you can participate from home.

The recipients
All donations, large and small, put some cheer into the holidays for a child who may otherwise not have received any gift at all. The items are often given to families who cannot afford to buy presents, so that the children can open a gift that's given to them by a loved one, not a charity. These items go to more than 200 nonprofit family organizations in all 50 states reaching millions of kids. Recipients include homeless shelters, children's group homes, schools, foster family services, domestic abuse shelters, Native American missions, military bases, hospitals, preschools, after school programs, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The TODAY Show Toy Drive is a project of the TODAY Show Charitable Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit organization. All donations are tax deductible to the extent the law allows. In 2008, it was honored with a President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Let's all work together in making this year's toy drive the most successful ever. It comes at a time of great need.

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