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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Toys for Tots continues through the pandemic

Yolo County Toys for Tots has altered its annual program in order to ensure that children receive toys this holiday season

Despite the pandemic, Yolo County Toys for Tots remains committed to providing toys to children during the holiday season. In order to maintain the safety of volunteers and participants, the coordinators have made significant changes to the logistics of the program. 

The toy giveaway typically consists of a one-day event at the Yolo County Fairgrounds. The Yolo County Health and Human Services distributes tickets to families who are eligible. Parents would be assigned a time to stop by the fairgrounds, browse the hall full of toys arranged by gender and age, then take home toys for their children. Last year about 950 families were served.

This year, the toy giveaway will take place over five days: Monday, Dec. 14 through Friday, Dec. 18, from 8-10 a.m. Because of the limited operating hours, only 100 families are allowed to stop by per day.

Due to the current health restrictions, a walk-through, indoor event is no longer possible. Instead of walking through the fairgrounds, parents will remain in their cars. They will be given slips of paper ahead of time where they can indicate what kind of toys they would like for their children. Volunteers will prepackage the toys into bags which will be brought out to each family’s car during the giveaway event.

According to this year’s Yolo County Toys for Tots Coordinator Tom Evans, many volunteers are needed to sort through, bag and distribute the toys. Volunteers can help with set-up from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., or during the actual five-day giveaway event.

“I’ll take as many volunteers as I can get,” Evans said. “I have several people who want to volunteer, but some of them are teachers. They don’t get off until about three o’clock or so. And the fairgrounds have been restricted to their operating hours.”

Evans emphasized the difference that these toys could make for a child, not only during the holiday season, but year-round. Because the program typically has leftover toys, they save them to distribute during a crisis. For example, during the fire in Paradise, volunteers took truckloads of toys to camps and distributed them to children.

“Our big event is the Toys for Tots giveaway in December, but we are also involved with the community and outside communities all year long,” Evans said. “The sheriffs and police departments know that, and we’ve talked to Child Protective Services as well. If a kid needs a toy, we’ll give it to them. If we can, we’ll help them.”

Paul Hernandez, the previous coordinator for Toys for Tots, noted that this year will likely be difficult compared to previous years. There are typically multiple donation bins set up at UC Davis, but because there are very few people on campus due to the lack of in-person classes, they are expecting significantly fewer donations. 

“UC Davis was very generous in the past, with the students giving a lot of toys and a bunch of collection boxes on campus,” Hernandez said. “Unfortunately, this year the students aren’t there and so we don’t anticipate a lot of toys from them.”

In addition to the lack of donations from individual community members, there are also fewer businesses who are able to participate this year. These businesses typically volunteer to host toy drop-off points or donate money directly to the program.

“When I was running [the program], I was able to get the casino in Yolo County to donate $8,000 to help,” Hernandez said. “Of course, this year they won’t be able to do that because they’ve been shut down. So financially, it’s hurting, in addition to the donations being down.”

Despite the difficult circumstances presented by the pandemic, Hernandez and other volunteers continue to push forward with the program. 

“I wish you could see the parents light up when we give them the gifts,” Hernandez said. “The program doesn’t just help the kids with some toys, it helps the entire family. Parents feel good that they’re able to give something to their kids.”

Toys for Tots is a nationwide program spearheaded by the Marine Corp League. The Yolo County Marine Corp League has been a part of this program since the 1980s. Since then, community members throughout Yolo County have come together in their continued effort to help others.

Deb Scott-Rowe, whose husband was a Navy Corpsman and is now a member of the Marine Corp League, participates in behind-the-scenes work for the Toys for Tots program, along with her husband and four sons. They help collect toys from drop-off points and deliver them to a conex at the Yolo County Fairgrounds. 

Scott-Rowe has been looking for volunteers throughout the community to help the Toys for Tots program. She stated that many volunteers who previously helped are getting older, and they need support from younger community members.

“These organizations are limping along with older gentlemen who sometimes can’t get out and do it physically,” Scott-Rowe said. “It’s a small group to begin with and an aging group, and then you add COVID to it, which adds more health concerns.”

At UC Davis, the Mail Services department, a unit of Supply Chain Management, teams up with the Yolo County Marine Corp League for the annual Toys for Tots Drive. According to Crystal Ross O’Hara, the client relationship manager for Supply Chain Management at UC Davis, was able to collect and donate 614 toys over a two-week period last year. Because of the pandemic, the donation bins were only on campus for one week this year. 

“Because of the short timeline, and obviously, because there’s not as many people on campus, I think the collection this year will be much smaller than in years past,” O’Hara said.

Despite the decrease in toy donations this year, Mail Services continue to help the UC Davis community during the pandemic. In addition to the annual toy drive, they also host an annual food drive. While they were planning to donate the collected food to the Yolo County Food Bank, there were not enough volunteers and regular staff workers to do the necessary amount of work.

Since they did not want to let the food go to waste, Mail Services partnered with the UC Davis campus to donate the food to the ASUCD Pantry.

“We really appreciated the opportunity to be able to donate to the ASUCD Pantry,” O’Hara said. “I don’t know how many staff members knew about the food pantry, and it gave us an opportunity to promote it. We appreciate that they stepped up and were able to take the donations. It’s just not a relationship we’ve had in the past and it was a great opportunity for us.”

Although this year looks significantly different for the Toys for Tots drive, UC Davis staff and Yolo County community members continue their efforts to support the needs of the community.

“We just want to say thank you to everybody who donated,” O’Hara said. “We really appreciate [that] in these difficult times […] people kept us in mind with both the toy drive and the food drive, that they remembered this is what we do every year. And we’re going to keep doing it, even though there’s challenges to it.”
Written by: Liana Mae Atizado — features@theaggie.org

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