The holidays can be a particularly rough time to be in need, and this year's terrible fire season has put far more families in this position than usual. Showing our kids how the community rallies is important. We can make time to volunteer with our kids—a great holiday tradition—and kids can also experience the joy of giving by passing along some of last year's gifts, sharing the old with someone new before finding out what Santa delivers this season. When we pursue the parental thrill of buying super-cool toys, wrapping them, and making our kids' day on Christmas or Hanukkah, maybe we could add just one more for a child in need. We know of some great places to bring both kinds of toy donations—new and gently used—to spread around some of that holiday joy.
It's sometimes trickier than you might think finding someone (other than a younger cousin) to gratefully accept gently used toys. One way to recycle last year's favorites is by donating them to thrift shops. The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and a long list of local hospitals, churches, and other worthy charities operate thrift stores where some families are looking to buy second-hand treasures to thrill a new round of kids. And this year in particular, local chapters of the Salvation Army and Red Cross in Los Angeles and Ventura County are able to share toys and other donations with families who have lost so much so close to the holidays.
Los Angeles County Toy Loan is another great option for donating second-hand toys in good condition. This wonderful program has been around since the Great Depression, lending toys to needy families on an honor system, much like public libraries.
Other charities hope to share in the thrill we get from buying something new by asking donors to bring new toys for kids in need. The following annual holiday programs accept donations of new, unwrapped toys, which they pass on to little ones for Christmas:
Toys for Tots is probably the most famous of the holiday toy drives. Operated by the Marine Corps each holiday season, the charity brings gifts to less fortunate children all over the country. You've likely driven by signs somewhere already, but check the list of LA drop-off locations to find all the options.
Spark of Love is the Los Angeles Fire Department's holiday toy drive; stations generally start collecting and accepting requests for new toys the day after Thanksgiving. Why not call in advance to see if it's a good time to take a tour of the station, letting kids get two great lessons in one outing? Fire workers not on call are always happy to let little ones sit on the trucks and check out the gear. (And whether or not the crew have time for a tour, I've found they always appreciate a home-baked treat; taking time to bake cookies to thank the men and women who fight fires for us is a great activity with little ones.)
Children's Hospital Los Angeles also gratefully accepts toy donations. To prevent infection, toys need to be new and unwrapped. The hospital keeps a specific wish list on its donations page.
Finally, Union Station Holiday TrainFest and Toy Drive is the new version of the old Metrolink Toy Express. This festival at Union Station offers tours of vintage trains and visits with Santa Claus in return for donations of unwrapped toys. Hop a train downtown on December 16, 2017, to enjoy the festival and help the toy drive.
Post originally published November 17, 2011