It's the season of giving.
But money is tight and prices are high and asking Minnesotans to give what they have to those who have less is a big request this year.
Toy drives across the Twin Cities are coming up short this holiday as they face waiting lists that have thousands more children than donated gifts.
Which brings us to north Minneapolis and the snowy steps of the Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, where the newest, cutest additions to the congregation arrive tucked under arms or into purses.
Baby dolls. Barbie dolls. More than 150 donated dolls and counting. All the dolls — doctor dolls, princess dolls, fashion plates — are Black or brown, just like the little ones who will be unwrapping them.
"It's a better doll when it looks like you, right?" said Jill Petty, one of the organizers of the church's African-American Doll Drive.
The congregation mobilized to help the Salvation Army, which has struggled to collect toys this year — especially toys that reflect the diversity of the children who would receive them.
Giving a child a doll that looks like them is a small thing. But it's a gift that lets them see themselves as the princess, the doctor, the astronaut, the beauty — the hero of every adventure they'll be going on with their new toy.
"It's a little gesture with a big impact," said Petty, who has watched with delight as members of the congregation drop off their dolls, then linger to marvel at all the other donations. Black dolls, Native dolls, dolls in the likeness of Colombian protagonist Mirabel from the movie "Encanto."
"It's generated lots of conversations about representation," Petty said. "Because representation matters. The images that we see and the things we expose our children to, it goes a long way."
A gift doesn't have to be expensive to be meaningful. Petty welcomed $5 dolls that she knows were chosen with care by neighbors who are doing what they can with what they have.
More people need help this year, just when fewer can afford to give. The Salvation Army has 4,000 more children on the waiting list than they have toys at local donation centers this week.
But the charity has served the cities for 120 years — and they have faith in us.
"We live in a generous community," said Salvation Army spokesperson Dan Furry, noting that the group collects toys year round. A toy donated to them right now will either reach a child this Christmas or next. Either way, you're making a child happy.
The Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church is collecting toys until 6 p.m. Wednesday and will deliver them to the Salvation Army.
"Not only are you looking out for the kids, you're looking out for parents," Petty said. "It just gives you a sense of self-worth that you're able to put something under the tree."
Holiday cards echo scripture in telling us it's better to give than to receive, and science backs up that message.
Giving someone a gift — even a gift that costs nothing, like shoveling a neighbor's sidewalk — floods the brain with feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. According to the Cleveland Clinic, generosity lowers blood pressure, melts stress and boosts happiness.
Petty has seen the joy on the faces of the women and men who walk in to drop off dolls and donations for the church toy drive.
"We are glad to do it," she said of the church's doll donors.
If you'd like to donate a doll and get a nice hit of dopamine, drop a toy off at the church Wednesday at 1800 Dupont Avenue N., in care of Pastor John Bowen Sr. You can find a full list of Salvation Army toy donation sites here: https://centralusa.salvationarmy.org/twin-cities/toy-shop/