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When the annual toy drive for Charlottesville area children kicks off Saturday it will look different as organizers adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of just one day, the Toylift drive will run from Saturday to Dec. 4 at the old Sears Auto Center in the Fashion Square Mall. Donations will be accepted via a drive-thru from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
A bucket truck will still rise above the mall parking lot to remind drivers about the toy drive, but only the nonprofit’s mascot, a bear, will go in the bucket. Typically, community members have taken a ride to help spread the word.
The Toylift, a locally-grown nonprofit that started in 1989, will need all the toys they can get this year, organizers said.
“We have more children now than we’ve ever had in the past,” founder Tom Powell said. “Last year, we had more than 4,000, and this year, we’re way way over that.”
The Toylift works with school counselors and social workers to build the list of children who will get toys from the organization. Children in Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene, Nelson, and Orange can get on the list.
“The pandemic has put everybody in such a bind,” Powell said. “Many folks [are] out of work, or barely working that they’re in desperate need of help this Christmas. … It’s just all across the economy; doesn’t matter whether you’re a low-income person or a middle-income person.”
In years past, Toylift would give out bicycles, but Powell said they had to nix that this year in order to use those funds to buy more toys. They typically try to provide an educational board game, a toy and books.
Children won’t get a book this year unless they specifically request it, volunteers said, because of the manpower required to sort the books by age groups.
Donations have already started, and volunteers are working at the old Auto Center to sort what they have received. They’re limited on how many volunteers can work in the space in order to maintain social distancing and follow other COVID-19 precautions.
“We’ve got that entire building set up with our tables, and there’s not a lot of toys on it right now, and we’ve got a volume of children to help this Christmas that we’ve never seen before,” he said.
In addition to donating toys, community members can support the effort with monetary donations via PayPal or Venmo or by making a purchase through the Toylift’s Amazon wish list. For more information, go to toylift.org.
“We know exactly what the children want and we know exactly what they like,” he said. “We’re able to go out and our purchasing power is far greater than the average person.”
Powell added that the Toylift’s relationships with local merchants helps them purchase more with each dollar donated.
“We can do a lot; we just have to have the funds to do it,” he said. “During this pandemic time, everybody’s hurting. Everybody’s burning up their savings. … There are kids in this area that wake up on Christmas morning and there’s nothing there.”
The Toylift isn’t collecting toys at remote sites as they’ve done in previous years.
“We’re concentrating on collecting toys over a solid week,” he said.
Powell said they’re asking those who go to Fashion Square Mall to donate to use common sense and be patient if there’s a long line at the drive-thru.
“We’re not going to have the bounce arounds, the food and all the different things we usually have,” he said. “Because this pandemic is a serious thing and the last thing we want to do is get somebody sick.”
Distributing the toys will take a little bit longer this year from a day to over a few weeks since they can only have 25 people at a time in the building.