In a typical year, the Camden County chapter of Toys for Tots receives about 400 applications from families in the area to receive assistance from the nonprofit around the Christmas holidays.
Last year alone, the chapter distributed more than 23,000 toys and helped provide support for more than 11,000 kids, according to coordinator Desmond Newbill.
But for reasons exacerbated by COVID-19, the chapter has received nearly double the typical applications of any given year, with approximately 750 applications so far.
“I feel that there is an urgent need, and we have so many families that are experiencing hardship currently. So it’s important for us to meet the needs of as many families that we can this year,” said Patricia Leakins, a 14-year volunteer with Toys for Tots.
The larger need is largely due to the financial hardship some families may be facing as COVID continues to upend daily life, a factor that will also alter the way toy collection and distribution is done.
“This year will certainly be a little different; we’re still putting out drop boxes around Camden County to collect toys, but we’re also asking the public to go online and purchase toys through our vendors so they can send toys directly to our warehouse,” said Newbill.
The chapter typically has around 225 drop box locations each year, but with stores and other businesses having to operate with social distancing and other various safety measures, the chapter will only have about 110 locations this year.
All locations, as well as instructions on donating online, can be found on the Toys for Tots website at www.toysfortots.org with a search for Camden County’s chapter.
Newbill said toys will be given out at a drive-thru location on Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Gloucester Township Recreation Center. According to Toys for Tots, all recipients of this year’s program will receive email confirmation with a specific time to arrive on pickup day.
The Camden County chapter still plans to continue its annual Christmas Eve Bus Run, where it partners with the Gloucester Township, Pine Hill, Camden County and Lawnside police department to visit various churches, apartment complexes, group homes and other locations to drop off additional toys at specific sites on Christmas Eve. The Bus Run is a signature event for the Toys for Tots chapter each year.
“We end up giving out enough toys to help around 600 kids on the night before Christmas with that event,” said Jahnicka Newbill. “We’re still ironing out how exactly to do that as safely as possible … but we always work closely with the police departments to make that possible and we bring along hundreds and hundreds of toys.”
For information on how to become a drop-box location this holiday season or other ways to help, visit www.toysfortots.org.