Thanksgiving feasting hasn’t yet begun, but Black Friday is already underway and nonprofits are hoping to reap the benefits of this holiday season.
Whether you shop in person or online, and whether you like to buy for babies, children, teens or adults, you can find ample opportunity to play Santa and spread the holiday spirit.
Sharing the joy of the season has become an annual tradition for Rita Beal and more than 250 other volunteers from Voyager RV Resort who spearhead Santa’s Toy Shop for the Salvation Army.
Santa’s Toy Shop provides a venue in which parents who are struggling financially can choose free toys and gifts for children up to age 12. It is stocked with items collected during the Salvation Army’s holiday toy drives supported by local businesses, community partners and individuals.
“It only takes seeing one parent get to pick toys for their children to make your heartstrings just sing. Most of these parents didn’t think they would be able to give their child any gift at all and they can choose a bundle of toys and a book. Oh, my goodness, they are so thankful. The tears roll a lot; they are crying and you are crying,” said Beal, who has volunteered since 2012 and now coordinates the three-day event, which will take place Dec. 19-21.
She said the group expects to distribute gifts to at least 4,000 children this year and provide donations of food for the children’s families. Last year, about 1,440 families were supported by the effort, which takes months of time, effort and money.
“Beforehand, we have volunteers bringing donations to the warehouse; sorting books and toys; setting up tables for us to display them and bundle them; and helping 50 clients through every half-hour for three days. No one in Tucson understands what is going on until they see it and then they are just amazed,” said Beal.
Overall, Beal said the preparations and the event make the holiday for many volunteers, particularly for those who don’t have children of their own nearby with whom to celebrate.
“To us, this is Christmas. We can help give all of these children toys for Christmas and though we may not be there to see the kids open them, it makes our Christmas,” she said.
Aviva Children’s Services
If you also want to ensure that teens in need have gifts to unwrap, consider supporting Aviva Children’s Services, which is seeking donations for 2,500 children in foster care.
“We especially need gifts for teenagers. It is so much fun to buy Disney toys for little kids, but often the teens are forgotten. Many of these kids wouldn’t receive gifts at all if we didn’t do this drive,” said Dina Scalone, chief philanthropy officer of the Easterseals Blake Foundation. The foundation entered into a partnership with Aviva Children’s Services in July to develop a Center of Excellence for children involved with the foster or kinship care system.
Scalone said the goal of the holiday drive is to provide at least two gifts for each child and that collecting 5,000 gifts can be daunting. She credits generous community partners with supporting the effort each year and encourages individuals to consider spearheading a drive with co-workers, family members or friends.
“It is a nice way for companies or service groups to come together and contribute during the holidays. Our biggest group of supporters is the Aviva Divas. They make and sell quilts and use the proceeds to buy gifts for the kids. They are leading the way, but they need help from the community,” Scalone said.
Youth On Their Own
Another nonprofit seeking support for teens is Youth On Their Own, which assists homeless and near-homeless middle school and high school students in their quests to graduate.
Last year, the organization provided services to 2,054 youths, many of whom are on their own due to abuse and/or neglect, abandonment or parental incarceration.
YOTO is in the midst of its annual “Spread the Warmth” campaign to collect at least 1,600 plush blankets to pair with accompanying $25 gift cards for the holidays.
Bethany Neumann, YOTO director of development, said this will be the only present many of the young people will receive all year.
“There is an emotional appeal; it is really important for these kids to have something. Lots of them say they want something that is portable that they can take with them if they have to move suddenly. They also say something warm and fuzzy helps them feel more normal when they are in the situations that they are in,” said Neumann.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com