By ELIZABETH LEPRO
REGION — As many are still recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic, some local organizations running holiday toy drives say they saw an increased need for …
REGION — As many are still recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic, some local organizations running holiday toy drives say they saw an increased need for donations this year. Others said communities have been stepping up to meet the need.
It’s been an unforgiving couple of years for many families. COVID-19 cases are spiking in Sullivan County, NY, reaching their highest point since April 2020, according to data from the county. The unemployment rate in both Wayne and Sullivan, which hit a 20-year-plus high in June 2020, has come down significantly, but many are still trying to make up for lost wages and unpaid bills.
“Not everybody is able to work,” said Thelma McIver, head social welfare examiner with the county. “Our schools are half-in, half-out, our COVID numbers are out of whack… It’s tough out here. Yes, the government is throwing money at you but not everybody’s catching it.”
The Sullivan County Department of Family Services is collecting toys for 108 children this season—more than in years prior. The county manager’s office, said Communications Director Dan Hust, coordinated its own toy drive, aiming to gather about 90 toys as of the first week of December. In the past, that number was closer to 50. Hust added that for the first time in his knowledge the county also collected Hanukkah gifts this year.
Sullivan County kids also benefit from the Toys for Tots Marine gift-giving organization, one of a number of national initiatives that asked donors to shop ahead of time if they were buying online because of shipping delays due to COVID-19 supply chain issues.
Sgt. Maryabelo Ganal said that has been a slight issue in the Hudson Valley, but that this year is “a lot better than last,” thanks to decreased in-person restrictions. In 2019, Toys for Tots distributed gifts to more than 39,864 kids in the Hudson Valley. In 2020, that number was 21,339.
Drop-off bins for the organization are at more than 20 locations in Sullivan this year, including all of the Jeff Banks, most Dollar Generals and SUNY Sullivan. Ganal noted that Sullivan County has been struggling to fill bins—which she said could be due to advertising or to economic woes. Sullivan County coordinator Rachel Graves said Sullivan is a ”very underserved county, and has been for many years.” The toys were distributed on Main Street in Liberty on December 13.
Lori Rivenburgh, with the Town of Wallkill Boys & Girls Club, said the organization’s Giving Tree program saw an increase in need for the second year in a row—about 600 children will receive gifts through its toy drive, compared to 450 to 500 prior to the pandemic.
“We can only assume that the economic impact of COVID-19 plays a role,” Rivenburgh said.
She added that the Boys & Girls Club drive includes coats, hats, gloves, hygiene items and other everyday necessities beyond toys. “It’s important for our local community to realize that the needs are oftentimes for things we take for granted, like clothes, bedding and the like.”
Wayne County’s dedicated Christmas bureau hustled once again this year to coordinate its annual toy distribution. Last year, it had to limit operations.
But community members recognized the need, said Christmas Bureau Secretary Marissa Nacinovich, and the bureau has been blown away by generosity during the pandemic. A longtime contributor, WNEP’s Michael G. Stanton returned to his bathtub on Main Street in Honesdale on December 11 to take his 20th annual “Shower for Charity,” which last year raised $30,000—the most money yet.
Thanks to the increased generosity, all 141 families who signed up for the toy drive this October through the Christmas Bureau will receive the usual $110 worth of gifts, along with an additional four toys per family.
“My opinion is that people are just feeling much more generous this year with everything that has happened with COVID, and they feel like they’re willing to provide more,” Nacinovich said.
Meanwhile “little elves” at the Himalayan Institute in Bethany have been hard at work, cleaning and repairing donated bicycles to contribute to the bureau’s toy drive. Brian Fulp, Christmas Bureau board member and director of the institute, is leading the effort. He expected to repair about 18 bikes, and said that in previous years, “they would be gone in a minute.”
“Being able to dedicate some of our time to taking something old and turning it into something new for someone is super inspirational,” Fulp said.
The opposite was true for the nonprofit organization The Zipper Junction Project, said its founder Jim Zumpone. The project has been accepting monetary donations because of the pandemic and came up “significantly short” this year.
“Not wanting to turn anyone in need away, our volunteers stepped up to cover the shortfall,” Zumpone said. He said the nonprofit will continue accepting donations through the end of the year in an effort to pay back the volunteers.
“The need is certainly there, but the response has been less than we would like to see from the community,” Zumpone said. “This combined with what we think is simply less liquidity in folks’ pockets, has made this year challenging, to say the least.”
Click here for a regional list of toy donation sites.
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