Calgary charities see major drop in toy donations

Calgary's branch of the Salvation Army says it used to receive about 50,000 toy donations a year before the pandemic. Now that number's down to 15,000.

'The last thing we want to do is promise somebody a toy, and we don't have one'

Some Calgary charities say they're receiving a surge of calls from families asking for toys to put under the Christmas tree this year. But with a major drop in donations, charities worry they won't be able to meet community needs. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Some Calgary charities are seeing a major drop in toy donations this year, and they're worried they won't meet be able to meet the community's needs. 

The local branch of the Salvation Army and the Women's Centre of Calgary are experiencing a surge in calls from families hoping to secure a Lego set, a toy doll or a gift card to leave under the tree for their kids this Christmas.

"We're in no competition with other agencies who are doing the Christmas toy distribution in Calgary. Find one, and give a toy this year," said Cliff Wiebe, executive director of community services for Calgary's branch of the Salvation Army.

"So [kids] can go back to school after Christmas and say, 'I too got a really cool gift this year,' and they can share."

Wiebe says before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Salvation Army's Calgary toy campaign would receive about 50,000 donated toys a year. But during the pandemic, donations dropped by more than a third to about 15,000 toys. The organization expects the same number this year.

Wiebe said the Salvation Army expects to provide 3,000 toy hampers to Calgarians this holiday season.

Targeting families most in need

With fewer donations, Wiebe said his organization has had to change the way it selects families this year.

Rather than a city-wide first-come, first-serve basis, the organization is focusing on the greater Forest Lawn area.

"If you look at the statistics of Calgary, it has the lowest household income in our city and so our goal is also to get this into the hands of families who need it the most," said Wiebe.

Wiebe said the Salvation Army will also choose some children from neighbourhoods connected to its three different churches.

The Women's Centre of Calgary is also overwhelmed with requests for toys this year, and its registration process for families hasn't even started yet.

"Just having people be like, 'Can we please be on the list? We're in need this Christmas,'" said Bo Masterson, executive director of the Women's Centre.

The Women's Centre of Calgary, which provides toys for kids aged 0-18 and their female caregivers every holiday season, is inundated with requests for presents this year. (Submitted by Women's Centre of Calgary)

Masterson said over the past year, the non-profit has been inundated with calls from refugees and immigrants arriving from Ukraine, Afghanistan and South America needing emergency food hampers and personal care products.

So, the centre is planning to provide 30 per cent more gifts this holiday season for kids aged 0-18 and their female caregivers. But that's only if enough donations come in.

"It's heartbreaking, I think, for our volunteers to have to say no or try to kind of figure out where we go from here. So, it's definitely been a tough couple months," said Masterson.

Spreading the message

Masterson said the Women's Centre is going to put calls out on social media to try and drum up more support for toy donations.

"[We] hope that the public picks this up because it is a really, really important time for many, many people in our community," said Masterson.

Wiebe said the Salvation Army is also looking at different ways to get the word out about their need for toy donations. Its registration has already closed, but if donations start increasing in December, he said the organization will accept more families to add to its list.

"The last thing we want to do is promise somebody a toy, and we don't have one," Wiebe said.


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.


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