Mayor’s Community Toy Drive brings cheer to many
on December 3, 2010
At this time of year, many parents grab up lists to Santa and race to the mall in hopes of nabbing the year’s hottest toys to hide under the tree. But for Nombuyiselo Gqajena, an Oakland mother living at the Henry Robinson Multi-Service Center—a transitional housing facility—Christmas presents great emotional and financial stress.
“It’s kind of hard transitioning—trying to get my kids into a stable house,” said Gqajena, a mother of two girls. “I don’t really have enough money to buy [my daughters] Christmas stuff.”
Gqajena’s family is just one of roughly 1,200 Oakland families who have already signed up to receive toy donations from the Mayor’s Community Toy Drive this year. The toy drive, now in its thirty-first year, provides new toys for low-income Oakland children under the age of 12.
Just before Thanksgiving, the city hosted a sign-up event for families interested in receiving toy donations, drawing roughly 200 more families than last year’s event did.
“Every year, the line gets longer on initial sign-up day,” said Al Lujan, a supervisor at the mayor’s office who has managed the toy drive for nine years. “There were people lined up at 6:00 in the morning, even though we don’t start until 10:45.”
To be eligible to receive toy donations, families must live in Oakland, have children age 12 or younger, and provide proof that their household income falls below the federal poverty line.
“This can be tricky,” Lujan said of proving a family’s household income. “Some of our immigrant communities work under the table and don’t get a pay stub. So, we’re pretty lenient with that and still, at the same time, not saying yes to anyone.”
In addition to the increase in the number of sign-ups, Lujan said, the types of families signing up for the toy drive has also changed. “There are a lot of new faces and a different segment of the population,” Lujan said, explaining that he has seen more white families sign up this year, although in the past the toy drive has typically served predominantly African American, Latino and Asian families.
Families will be able to sign up to receive toy donations until December 17. Lujan anticipates that an additional 500-600 families will register before the deadline. Families will then be given appointments to come pick up the toys between December 20 and 23. “We say, ‘Come back at this date and we’ll have all your stuff ready to go and bagged up.’ It’s a clunky, but well oiled machine,” Lujan said.
This is Gqajena’s second time participating in the toy drive. “It came right on time,” Gqajena said of last year’s drive, which she learned about from a flyer she received on the street. “I didn’t have anything ready when they did it. Those were the only gifts my kids had last year.”
All children participanting in the toy drive receive at least one new toy specific to their age and gender. “Every kid gets one good toy—a more expensive toy,” said Lujan. “And, then we throw in some smaller stuff.”
“It’s really a weight off my shoulder,” said Gqajena. “Because, that way, they can at least be able to have some type of toy to play with.”
In spite of the growing number of families signing up to receive toys, Lujan said the number of donations received in the drive has remained steady over the years. Each year, Lujan estimates the toy drive distributes nearly 20,000 toys.
“People step up even when they’re not on solid ground themselves,” said Lujan. “I’m really amazed. We have people who can say, ‘I’m on this level, but there are people who are worse off than I am.’”
Bins where donors can leave new, unwrapped toys are scattered at high traffic locations across the city including the public libraries, the Chabot Space and Science Center, and the Oakland Museum of California. In addition to toy donations, Lujan said the toy drive also receives many monetary donations and has begun implementing an online method.
“I’m hoping the online method will appeal to more people,” said Lujan. “Whatever we can get, I’m grateful.”
But no one is more grateful than the families who receive the toys. “I’m looking forward to getting a couple of things from [the toy drive],” Gqajena said. “I appreciate it. Even it it’s just a teddy bear, it helps.”
For more information about the Mayor’s Community Toy Drive, please visit the Office of the Mayor’s website.
Image: Roughly 1,200 Oakland families have signed up so far to receive toys through the Mayor’s Community Toy Drive this year. New, unwrapped toys can be donated in bins located around the city. Image courtesy of Carla Radosta/Officer of the Mayor
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