Donations for the Toys for Tots Christmas campaign are down 96 percent this year compared with last year. Unless there is an extraordinary turnaround, many children in the Washington area may receive no toys at all, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

"This time last year, we had 25,000 toys in hand," said Sgt. Anthony Smalls, the campaign chairman. "This year we have 1,000 donations."

Smalls attributes the shortfall to the economic downturn and to the competing interest this year in sending Christmas packages to military personnel in Saudi Arabia.

The Marines have fallen short of their toy collection goals in each of the last two years. But in each of those years, they were able to get some toys to each group that asked. This year, Smalls said, the Marines will have to create a priority list from the 127 groups that have asked for a total of 85,000 toys and leave some organizations out.

Smalls said social service groups run by local governments and organizations helping single parents will go to the top of the list. In years past, the Marines gave toys to groups on a first come, first served basis.

The Marines' annual toy drive is the only such campaign in the area, leaving those organizations needing toys with few alternatives, according to several of the groups contacted.

Fred Snowden, pastor for education at the National Christian Church in Fort Washington, said his church has nowhere else to turn.

"Each year, the Marines have assisted us with 2,000 toys," Snowden said. "They are very nice toys, never any junk. For many of our church children and those in the community we serve, that one toy would be the only gift they receive."

Snowden said he thought the needs of children were greater than those of adults in the military.

"These are ghetto children," he said. "We can't forget them just because there is a more flamboyant need {in Saudi Arabia}. Those children were in the ghetto in 1985, in 1986 and so on. Their needs never go away."

Lois Blevins, a kindergarten teacher at Mount Daniel Elementary School in Falls Church, had hoped Toys for Tots would be able to give the school 200 toys, as it had done last year.

"We don't know of any other sources for help," Blevins said. "We have a lot of children from low-income homes who will have little for Christmas. If the Marines are unable to help us, we just won't have any toys to give out."

Maria Gomez, executive director of Mary Center for Maternal and Child Care in the District, said she had received a letter from the Marines indicating that they might be unable to offer toys this year. She said the center came up with another way to do something special for the 1,800 families it serves.

"We told the Marines to take us off the list," Gomez said. "We didn't want to be greedy and take from another group in greater need."

"We got some money from local churches, and we will buy each of our mothers a {baby} thermometer," she said. "This year, we will have a banquet for all our clients made from free food given by the government."

The Marines also are doing things differently. For the first time, they bought toys this year. They spent $21,000 they had been given to buy 4,700 additional toys. They delayed distributing toys until yesterday, a week later than last year.

Smalls said he is still hopeful that area residents will find the extra money to buy toys for the campaign. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 20, he said.

This weekend, Redskins fans will have an opportunity to give a new toy to the project at Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. The entire Toys for Tots staff of 27 will be stationed outside the stadium to accept donations, Smalls said.

"We are taking three five-ton trucks," he said. "Last year, we got 15,000 toys donated. We hope to do as well this year."