The great debate of whether or not it’s too early to start putting up lights and playing Mariah Carey has been underway for the past few weeks, but for some, the holidays bring added stress and worry about being able to provide toys for their children. Thankfully, there are programs out there whose number one goal is to support these families.
In its own right, Toys for Tots has become somewhat of a holiday staple, with its iconic red train logo and nationwide reach, it has grown from a humble charity effort to one of the largest of its kind. While the process is pretty straightforward, getting your donations from a drop box to a child is still an impressive operation.
Okay, so you left your donation in a Toys for Tots drop box at your grocery store. What happens now?
Your toy donation, along with hopefully many more, are sent over to a local Toys for Tots campaign. There are over 800 different Toys for Tots donation campaigns going on across the United States during the holidays. While the Marine Corps Reserve sponsors the program, there are many campaigns run by the Marine Corps League, or Local Community Organizations known as LCOs, which are usually made up of veterans. There are also an incredible number of civilian volunteers who commit so much of their own time to help reach new distribution goals every year.
After your toy arrives at the warehouse, it is counted and categorized by age and gender. The toy stays there and awaits its final assignment to one of over 73 million children across the United States. In the meantime, the campaigns have a lot of work to do.
“So, you have my toy, how do you get it to a child?”
Well, there are a couple of ways that toys make their way into a child’s hands. First, and most direct, is a toy request. Any family can request a toy for their child. While a lot of Toys for Tots branding largely depicts the commercial representation of Christmas, it is not a religiously affiliated program, and absolutely does not deny toys to families that don’t celebrate Christmas. A parent can log on to a local program’s website and fill out a request form, that then makes its way to a coordinator who will add it to their list.
The second method is requesting toys through a local non-profit listed on the campaign’s website. The community non-profit organizations are critical to the success of some local programs. These organizations are integrated into the communities and are able to promote the program to hundreds, if not thousands, of local families.
Just like there are different ways to request toys, there are also different ways to donate. The most well known way of course is by buying a toy and bringing it to your local drop box. With the challenges of 2020, drop boxes aren’t quite as prevalent as they typically are, but with the ability for monetary donations and a new (admittedly really cool) “virtual Toybox” on their website, the program is doing its best to make sure there is ample opportunity for those who want to help. Toys for Tots touts a 96:4 ‘Support Service Expense Ratio’, meaning 96% of the annual donations, including the value of toys, ends up in the hands of a child. The other 4% pays for the limited advertising across the nation and a small handful of full-time staff salaries.
Finally, it’s distribution day! The volunteers have spent hundreds of hours prepping the warehouse in order to give away thousands of toys. Distribution is the culmination of donations. This year, like every year, starts distribution days with families waiting in line and ends with toys on their way to their new home. The toys, the volunteer hours and the donated dollars have impacted more than 265 million children across the country since 1947, and that’s a pretty respectable track record.