Twin Cities Marines are seeking reinforcements as they face a sudden shortage of volunteers for this year’s Toys for Tots drive.
Last year, 60 volunteers on average would sort toys at a St. Paul warehouse. But this year, no volunteers are scheduled for 14 of the next 21 days of the campaign.
“In normal years, we don’t have an issue of getting volunteers out,” Maj. Michael Gravelle said. But this year, “we don’t have anyone here. We’re struggling.”
Just in time for the year-end holiday fundraisers, Minnesota nonprofits are facing a shortage of volunteers as COVID-19 cases spike in the state. While some organizations shifted volunteer activities to at-home or virtual events or scrapped them altogether for fear of the virus spreading, in-person help is still critical at food shelves and programs such as toy drives.
Toys for Tots is run by the U.S. Marines and the Twin Cities chapter is among the top 10 largest campaigns of nearly 900 across the country. But the Twin Cities reserve unit only has 13 Marines staffing the warehouse, so Gunnery Sgt. Patrick Kent said both in-person help and toy donations are needed to meet the goal of collecting 200,000 toys for about 150 nonprofits in the Twin Cities by Dec. 17.
“I am a little worried we won’t receive as many toys,” Kent said. “I think there’s more need for families this year.”
People also can contribute virtually for the first time thanks to a Minneapolis marketing company, which helped launch GiveToysForTots.com.
The Salvation Army also is struggling to find volunteers for its toy shop and other programs such as bell ringers and food shelf volunteers. The Twin Cities organization hopes to collect 20,000 toys to distribute in a drive-through toy pickup instead of having 5,000 families shop in person due to COVID-19.
In Golden Valley, PRISM, a nonprofit that helps families with food and housing, is facing a shortage of toys. But the nonprofit’s advancement director, Brianna Miller, hopes to haul in toy donations on Thursday when PRISM aims to fill a van with toys for more than 900 kids.
“We are absolutely anticipating a huge jump in need this year,” she said, adding that the toy supply is so far down compared to last year, perhaps because some families are financially strapped themselves while others aren’t shopping as much in the pandemic. “COVID has hit a lot of us in different ways.”
With a growing number of Minnesotans in need, food shelves across the state have seen double or triple the usual number of visitors during the pandemic. In the west metro, PRISM is serving an extra 450 families a month, including many seeking help for the first time.
Other nonprofits have skipped toy drives due to the pandemic, shifting to provide gift cards for families instead, Miller said. But she said her nonprofit wanted to keep the toy tradition. Last year, for the first time in years, Toys for Tots was unable to provide toys to PRISM and now, for the second year, PRISM is stepping up its own toy collection efforts through Dec. 10.
“They are our neighbors. They are hairdressers, they are teachers, they are soccer coaches. No one is immune,” Miller said. “No matter what families are going through, they can still maintain traditions.”