Despite Chain Store Closures, Toy Drives Doing Well

By: Alan Pollock

The Chatham Police Association held a toy drive last weekend, and was overwhelmed with donations. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM With the closure of Toys “R” Us in Hyannis and Benny’s in Dennisport, among other retail chains, organizers of local toy drives worried that some needy local children wouldn’t find as much under the Christmas tree this year. Now, there appears to be reason for some cautious holiday optimism.

“We surpassed our donation amount last year by quite a bit. I’d say, more than doubled it,” Deputy Chatham Police Chief Michael Anderson said. The Chatham Police Association held its annual toy drive Saturday for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.

The Chatham Fire Association, which holds its own toy drive for the Chatham Children’s Fund, will be collecting new, unwrapped toys on Main Street by the Red Nun on Saturday.

“As always, these donations stay right here in our local community,” organizer Justin Tavano said. Department members are hoping to fill the back of an ambulance with toys, and they’ll also be accepting gift cards and donations of cash or checks, made payable to the Chatham Fire Association. The event happens from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the Grinch is expected to be on hand to greet youngsters.

With any luck, they’ll have as much success as the police did last weekend. Anderson said for them, the location of their toy collection was key.

“We are lucky enough that we partner with Ocean State Job Lot. And on that Saturday, almost every shopper coming in and going out brought a toy,” he said. The effort filled a cruiser, a pickup truck and a minivan, and the toys will be brought to the Toys for Tots center at Kmart Plaza in Hyannis on Sunday in a special convoy of police vehicles from around the Cape.

The loss of major retailers certainly doesn’t mean a shortage of options for consumers; many small retail stores in Harwich Port, Chatham and Orleans do a brisk business in toys. The Family Pantry used to rely on Benny’s for its annual bicycle distribution, but when the retail chain closed, a small local business – Dennis Cycle Center – stepped in. “He’s been a great help for us,” said Christine Menard, executive director of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod.

Still, larger retailers play an important role because they can donate toys in bulk and can attract crowds of individual donors. Many also served as donation drop-off sites for Toys for Tots.

“As soon as Toys 'R Us closed, we knew there was going to be a bump in the road,” Menard said. The Family Pantry alone distributes toys to 1,000 children, providing an average of $50 worth of items per child. The Toys for Tots drive provides about 80 percent of the toys distributed by the Pantry, she said. The rest come from organizations like the Cape Cod Corvette Club.

Worried about a potential shortage of donations, Menard did some reconnaissance, visiting the Kmart in Hyannis to see what their stock of toys looked like. She was glad to find that they had 10 aisles, each 50 feet long, all filled with toys. It’s likely that the donation center at Kmart this weekend will see very strong support, she added.

But the change in the retail scene means it’s more important than ever for people to contribute to local toy drives. Harwich first responders will be collecting toys and food as part of their annual Homeless for the Holidays encampment in Brooks Park, which continues through Dec. 13. Donations can be made between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

The Family Pantry is also still collecting toys, and has a particular need for certain items: 1,000-piece puzzles, family board games, hats and mittens, and gift cards for teens. Though the toy deadline for Family Pantry clients passed two weeks ago, “we still have people asking to sign up for toys,” she said. In such cases, the Pantry advises parents to look elsewhere, like their local police and fire departments.

Most departments continue to collect donations up through Christmas, and any items received after their toy distribution days are simply held for the following year. But local officials say they’re often able to help if a family has a last-minute hardship, either by dipping into their own toy reserves or by making a referral to a local social service agency.