NEW ORLEANS – It’s the second holiday season during the pandemic, and this year, another record number of children are at risk of not having gifts.
Some of the biggest toy-drive charities say supply chain issues aren’t helping.
Last year, collectively, the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots provided gifts for about 9 million children.
This year, both groups are seeing an increase in need, but will be attempting to save Christmas with fewer donations and volunteers.
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“There are still millions of our neighbors at risk of losing their homes,” said Salvation Army Commander Kenneth Hodder. “Families are still having to decide between paying the light bill and buying Christmas presents for their children.”
Hodder says that while many people are feeling the effects of “pandemic poverty,” the Salvation Army is expecting fewer donations.
With less volunteers, you’ll see fewer Salvation Army Bell Ringers at the shopping mall this holiday season.
Some kids signed up for their popular Angel Tree Program won’t be adopted.
However, many local campaigns prepare early to have an emergency stash of presents.
“We start Christmas in July,” said Major Chris Thornhill, the New Orleans Salvation Army Commander. “We want to be able to supplement any gaps in need throughout the Christmas season.”
Thornhill says children who are not adopted or did not sign up in time can still receive gifts on emergency distribution days. They’re planning for more families to show up on these days than in years past.
“Right now, many people are dealing with what they got going on at home, damage at their home from Hurricane Ida,” Thornhill said. “We want to be able to provide a gift for every child that we can.”
While donors shop for individual children adopted through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, many local campaigns purchase an emergency stash of gifts so that kids don’t slip through the cracks.
However, supply chain issues are throwing a wrench in some toy collections.
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“We are very challenged by the supply chain issues,” Hodder said. “That is why it’s going to be critical that people go to their store, select the toy, and get it to the tree as quickly as possible, so we can get it out in the community.”
Toys for Tots says its toy vendors alerted them during the spring that supply chain issues could disrupt toy deliveries near Christmas.
“We were lucky to enough to be able to look forward a little bit and anticipate those future supply chain issues, so we put in our orders in the spring so we would have the toys now,” said Colonel Ted Silvester with the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation.
But Silvester says the national foundation does not yet know how many emergency gifts it will need to send to its local campaigns this year.
In 2020, local chapters across the U.S. collected 2 million fewer toys than normal. The foundation had to send over 10 million toys to local toy drives and is anticipating to provide a similar number of emergency toys this year.
“Every day, the local campaigns are calling up our operations saying, ‘I need 500 toys for girls of this age or 500 toys for boys of this age,’” Silvester said.
Even with the added stress, both groups are hoping to keep the meaning of the toy drives at the forefront.
“We can provide hope to a child who feels hopeless,” Thornhill said. “We can help them feel remembered when they feel forgotten. We haven’t forgotten them.”
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