Oakland’s holiday kids’ charity needs toys — lots of toys. This year’s toy drive, a city program that provides low-income families gifts for their children during the holiday season, has received more than 2,000 petitions. Its organizers expect this number to quadruple over the next few days.
“The increase is really dramatic,” said Albert Lujan, supervisor of the Mayor’s Oaklanders Assistance Center, which provides information about city services. Last year the program received a total of 1600 toy requests, Lujan said. “But I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “There’s a lot of unemployment in Oakland and in the Bay Area. People are suffering from job cuts and pay cuts. It’s hard for families to meet their needs.”
The financial hardship has not only rocketed the demand for toys, Lujan said, but also appears to have caused a sharp decrease in donations, the program’s only source of income.
“We operate solely on donations — 99.9 percent is used for buying toys, and the rest Is to buy candy canes,” Lujan said. “We don’t use money from the city. Some taxpayers might not be happy if we used their money to buy toys.”
The Toy Drive organizers are hoping for both gifts of toys, which can be dropped off at designated locations around the city, and also money donations to help buy 8,000 toys. Lujan said the program has so far received $2000 and collected only a couple of barrels of toys. “I don’t know if it’s because of the political climate or the economic crisis, but people are not making enough donations,” Lujan said. “We’re really stressed out.”
It’s no coincidence that more families are signing up at City Hall for the Toy Drive this year. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, in 2010 almost 30 percent of the 5-17 year olds in the Oakland Unified School District live in poverty. That’s nearly 1,700 more than the previous year.
“We have seen familiar faces signing up, but we have also seen a lot of young families who have told us they simply can’t make ends meet,” Lujan said. “It’s a really humbling, difficult experience to come here and ask for help.”
Lujan said families who request toys are usually required to prove they are Oakland residents, that they have children ages 0-12, and that they have a low income. However, the program makes some exceptions.
“We know that some people who live in Oakland are undocumented or can’t prove their income, they can also sign up,” he said. “It’s the reality of living and working in America.”
In a press release issued last week, Mayor Jean Quan made reference to the Census Bureau data, which was detailed by The Bay Citizen in November. “The press recently reported that 1 in 3 children in Oakland are living in poverty,” Quan said. “We saw evidence of that when 1,200 families signed up on the first day of the Toy Drive.” Special assistant to the Mayor Sue Piper said Quan has made no additional comments about the issue since then.
Residents have until December 16 to go to City Hall and add their names, number, age and gender of children to a sign-up sheet. This Saturday, Toy Drive volunteers will also sign up people in the 100 blocks Mayor Jean Quan has adopted as part of her new safety plan. According to the Quan’s plan, 90 percent of shootings and homicides occur in 100 blocks located in East and West Oakland. A map of these 100 blocks is available here.
The Toy Drive organizers will assign people a date and hour from December 19 to 23 to pick up their toys in City Hall. On December 17, those who signed up in the 100 blocks area can also pick up their gifts at the Allen Temple Baptist Church, at 8501 International Boulevard; or in the Mohr 1 Apartments, at 741 Filbert Street.
Lujan urged people to donate books, educational toys and sports equipment. “We don’t encourage them to buy violent toys, like guns or swords,” he said. “Children are already too exposed to violence on TV, on video games and in the news.”
This year the toy drive has a great demand for gifts for girls ages 10 to 12. “They have preferences for fantasy jewelry, watches, cameras, and also baskets containing lotions, soaps and shampoos,” Lujan said.
People can make money donations online, or make checks payable to “Mayor’s Toy Drive” and mail them to the Office of the Mayor at 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612. They can also drop off unwrapped gifts at the following locations:
· Oakland Ice Center, 519 18th Street, Oakland
· Oakland Zoo, 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland
· Chabot Space & Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland
· Police stations
· Fire stations
· Main Library, 125 14th Street, Oakland
· Rockridge Library, 5366 College Avenue, Oakland
· EndGame Toy store, 921 Washington Street in Old Oakland
· Elihu Harris State Building, 1515 Clay Street, Oakland
· Port of Oakland, 530 Water Street, Oakland
· Oakland City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland
· Lionel J. Wilson Building, 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland
· Dalziel Building, 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza
The Toy Drive organizers will receive donations until December 23rd. Lujan said he believes many more people will make donations in the next weeks.
“It’s a stressful time,” he said. “The Mayor has stared at me and said, ‘Are we really going to make it?’ I know we will. Maybe I’m foolishly optimistic. But I have faith in the residents of Oakland.”