In what is seemingly becoming the new norm, Toys for Tots is making a last-ditch effort to fill empty or nearly empty toy donation bins throughout the county.
Five years ago, the county’s largest holiday toy collector would have had thousands of toys by this time and $12,000 in monetary contributions to be used to purchase even more gifts, said charity coordinator Robert Stevenson. This year, as has been the perplexing scenario for at least the past three years, many bins are empty and the charity’s mailbox has received only $300.
“That’s the $54,000 question,” Stevenson said of why donations have been coming in so last-minute in recent years. “We’ve never had this issue in the past.”
Stevenson said people have come through in the past two years, donating gifts and money at the 11th hour to ensure thousands of children in Napa County have toys to unwrap come Christmas morning.
“Last year, as soon as the (Register) article went out on Wednesday, I received $1,900 checks on Thursday,” Robertson said.
Salvation Army’s Capt. Trish Poochigian said it’s not that the people in Napa aren’t generous; it’s that they, like everyone, are busy.
“Everybody is busy and rushing around, then they think, ‘Oh my goodness, I need to do something,’” Poochigian said. Just as people have not yet finished their Christmas shopping, they have not yet donated, she said.
Though he is not used to having to make such a desperate plea, Robertson said he still hopes Napa County residents will take their generosity to the 90 donation boxes located throughout the county. The deadline for donations at most boxes is Friday, but Napa fire stations will accept gifts through the 21st.
“This town has always come through,” Stevenson said. “These are toys for Napa’s neediest children.”
Poochigian said the sooner gifts come in, the better. They must be sorted before next weekend’s distribution.
“We don’t want to be overly cautious and conservative with the first 100 families who come because we think we might not have enough toys,” Poochigian said. “We don’t want to give them one toy when we could give them one toy and another small one to supplement it.”
Several years ago, Catholic Charities and Salvation Army, the county’s two largest gift distributors, joined with Toys for Tots to create the Napa Holiday Assistance Coalition, which also includes the Napa Food Bank and the Queen of the Valley Medical Center.
Robertson said the move was done not only to join forces, but to prevent recipients from “double dipping,” ensuring there would be enough resources to provide for all children who might otherwise not receive gifts during the holidays.
“It isn’t about the individual organization,” Poochigian said in a news release. “It is about coming together to meet the needs of our community with dignity and service during the holiday season.”
About 1,200 families, representing roughly 3,500 children, have applied for assistance this year, Stevenson said. They must be below the poverty line, Poochigian said. The goal is to have enough toys so each child, baby to age 11, can receive two toys, Stevenson said.
“For some of these families, they’re going to not have as much to eat this month so their kids can have something,” Poochigian said. “These families may or may not choose to get something for their families, but if they do, it comes from sacrifice many of us would not have to consider. ... We’re not talking Xbox kids here, we’re talking, ‘Can we have a Barbie?’”
Last year, 17,000 toys were collected. By this time last year, $11,000 had also been raised to supplement the toy donations, Stevenson said.
This year for the first time, parents will be able to choose the toys their children receive in the “Joy Shop.” Previously, toys were chosen and given to families along with a box of food and a $10 gift certificate for a market, Stevenson said.
“This will make the whole thing more personal,” Stevenson said.
Checks made out to Tots for Tots can be sent to 1128 Foster Road, B, Napa 94558.