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'A rough season': Holiday nonprofits struggling to meet increased demand for toys, other necessities

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Nonprofit organizations that focus on holiday charity work are making major shifts and adjustments in anticipation of increased demand from families.

The Salvation Army and Toys for Tots are starting their resource-gathering and donation campaigns earlier than usual to assist families who have been hurt financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Local officials said it hasn't been easy.

"I absolutely believe that people will request more toys given the layoffs with COVID," said Robin Greer, the warehouse manager for Toys for Tots of York County. "That's why we need to start pushing early to get the funds in."

Traditionally, Toys for Tots has gathered the majority of its toy donations from collection boxes in grocery stores and other public places, but now many businesses are declining to accept those boxes out of fear of COVID-19, Greer said.

Instead, Toys for Tots is requesting financial contributions from those who wish to donate. Officials with the organization will then purchase toys to ship directly to its warehouse to avoid any unnecessary contact.

Toys for Tots volunteer Wes Iler, of Red Lion, sorts through a bag of donated toys at the warehouse in West Manchester Township, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Though it's still early in the campaign, organization leaders worry the demand will exceed the supply.

"We still don't have enough (toys) for everybody in York County, that's for sure," said Dean Van Zanardi, the local coordinating officer for Toys for Tots. "It's going to be a rough season."

Last year, Toys for Tots of York County provided families with more than 26,000 toys, and Greer said she expect that number to double this year.

Monetary donations to Toys for Tots of York County can be made through the organization's website or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 7313, York, PA 17404.

Likewise, the Salvation Army of York is expecting an increase in demand from families during the holiday season, but officials there worry they won't be able to fulfill that need, said Maj. Thomas Babbitt, area coordinator and corps officer.

"We hope we're going to be able to meet the need, (but) with anticipated income down and need up, it'll be harder than ever," Babbitt said. 

Bikes are shown at the Toys for Tots warehouse in West Manchester Township, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. About 100 bikes were distributed during the 2019 season, with 58 bikes still available. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Christmas at the Salvation Army will be organized differently this year, too. Online applications for Christmas assistance will replace walk-in appointments and can be completed through the Salvation Army website

Additionally, the organization's toy distribution will be extended from two to five days, Babbitt said. 

The types of donations being accepted have also changed. For instance, the Salvation Army will not accept stuffed animals this year because they are difficult to properly disinfect.

Items such as new, unwrapped toys and coats, hats, gloves and scarves can be dropped off at the Salvation Army from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at 50 E. King St. in York City. 

In addition to changes regarding the types of acceptable donations, Babbitt said he expects the organization's red kettle campaign will be different this year, with fewer locations allowing the kettles and fewer donations because people might avoid in-person shopping. 

Monetary donations can be made through the Salvation Army of York's website.

"We're already seeing an increased need in the other services we offer," Babbitt said. "We are anticipating a much bigger need this year."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.