Local toy drives that serve a growing number of Minnesotans in need are hoping for some last-minute holiday help as they face an urgent shortage of donations for the third consecutive year.

In the Twin Cities, the Salvation Army doesn't have enough toys for all 15,000 children on its gift list. Without last-minute toy donations, it will have to buy toys to make sure some 4,000 kids don't go without a gift this month.

Twin Cities Toys for Tots, which is run by the U.S. Marines, is short on some toys this year. And PRISM, a Golden Valley nonprofit focused on feeding and housing needy families, is responding to a record demand.

"Too many people don't have enough to make ends meet and it's the kids who really deserve to have a happy holiday season," said Michelle Ness, executive director of PRISM, which is distributing toys to nearly 900 kids in New Hope, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley and Plymouth — more than double the 400 kids it served last year. "We're getting down to crunch time. ... We need the community to step up."

In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits were short on toys and volunteers to run toy drives. Last year, they confronted a national toy shortage and higher demand for toys.

This year, as more Minnesotans visit food shelves than in any year on record, the demand is higher than ever. But donors may be stretched thin due to the higher cost of living, leading to fewer donations.

"It's going to get to a real critical point here, so that's why we're asking people to continue to give," said Maj. Scott Shelbourn, who leads the Twin Cities unit of the Salvation Army Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and North Dakota. "Christmas is all about giving back to our neighbors and this is a great opportunity to do that."

Requests for toys this year filled up faster than ever, Shelbourn said. Some families have faced hardships — a house fire, car accident or hospitalization — that derailed them financially. The Salvation Army's Twin Cities unit has 5,300 families with 15,000 kids on its toy list, about 1,000 more families than last year. If enough donations don't come in by next week the Army itself will buy toys, especially culturally specific toys such as African American dolls.

"There are families out there struggling between 'Do I pay my electric bill this month, or do I buy Christmas gifts for the kids?' Giving toys to our toy shops helps free up that burden," Shelbourn said.

People who want to help but can't afford it might donate their time instead, he said. The organization is short volunteers to ring bells at 300 kettles outside Twin Cities stores for its annual Red Kettle campaign.

In Minneapolis, filmmaker Adrian Wilson is teaming up with St. Paul-based Sanneh Foundation for a Black-led toy drive for the second year in a row, benefiting organizations focused on serving Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Toy donations are lagging behind last year's numbers, according to Wilson, who said he was motivated after the murder of George Floyd to help the community and ask businesses to "put your money where your mouth is."

"It's time for us to show action," he said. "It helps every single person [who gets a toy]."

At a Richfield warehouse, volunteers this week were sorting through piles of toys for the Twin Cities chapter of Toys for Tots, the second-largest Toys for Tots campaign in the country. The Marines have set a goal of collecting 250,000 toys by next week — 75,000 more toys than last year — and are still in need of toys for infants and teens. The toys are distributed to more than 200 local nonprofits to give to families.

"That is a significant number to fill," Staff Sgt. Tyree Stevens said.

Additional help from local businesses helped adjust for the drop in toys this year at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, one of the nonprofits that Toys for Tots supplies, executive director Jonathan Palmer said. The nonprofit will also purchase toys to make sure none of the 400 St. Paul families on its gift list — 100 more than last year — go without.

"The world has been through a lot of trauma and turmoil in the last few years," Palmer said. "You're helping make this time of year a brighter spot for families in need."

How to help Minnesota kids in need

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities: Friday, Dec. 16, is the final day to drop off toys at 690 Jackson St., St. Paul. Online donations will be accepted at boysandgirls.org.
  • Hallie Q. Brown Community Center: Drop off new toys (dolls of color and teen items are especially needed) by Friday, Dec. 16, at 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul, or go to hallieqbrown.org to donate.
  • PRISM: Drop off new, unwrapped gifts by the end of Thursday, Dec. 15, at 1220 Zane Ave N., Golden Valley, or shop at linktr.ee/prismmpls. Any extra toys will be given to families in need throughout the year as birthday gifts.
  • Phyllis Wheatley Community Center: Drop off new toys at 1301 N. 10th Av., Minneapolis, by Friday, Dec. 16, or donate at phylliswheatley.org.
  • Salvation Army: Drop off new, unwrapped toys at 2445 Prior Av. N., Roseville, or go to salvationarmynorth.org to donate by Christmas. The Army is also partnering with a church collecting African American dolls to distribute culturally appropriate toys to children of color; to donate, drop off unwrapped toys at Greater Mount Vernon Church, 1800 N. Dupont Av., Minneapolis, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, or 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
  • Twin Cities Toy Drive: Drop off toys by Tuesday, Dec. 20, at one of eight locations listed at twincitiestoydrive.com. Toys will go to local organizations focused on serving Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
  • Twin Cities Toys for Tots: Drop off new, unwrapped toys (toys for infants and teens especially needed) by Monday, Dec. 19, at 140 W. 66th St., Richfield, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.