Spark of Love Toy Drive. Photo courtesy of County of Los Angeles Fire Department
Spark of Love Toy Drive. Photo courtesy of County of Los Angeles Fire Department

Where To Donate Toys for the Holidays: Toys for Tots, Spark of Love, and More

The holidays can be a particularly rough time to be in need, and donating toys during the holiday season can truly change the lives of children. Plus, 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.

Gently Used Holiday Toy Donations

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 ArmyAmerican Red Cross, and a host 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.

New and Unwrapped Holiday Toy Donations

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 has 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 and designated drop-off dates on its donations page.

CHIPs for Kids is the holiday toy drive sponsored by the California Highway Patrol. This annual toy drive is at the Citadel Outlets and is November 30-December 22. Every donor receives a special gift from Citadel Outlets (while supplies last).

Operation Homefront Holiday Toy Drive helps bring Holiday happiness to our military families. You can set up a collection box at your own workplace or community center or participate in one of their donation events

PALS Police Activities League Annual Toy Drive happens at various police stations across the southland, including Santa Monica, which distributes toys to children in need within their city limits. 

In addition to all of these organizations, many school or children's organizations have their own internal toy drives to supply toys in their communities.

Find more holiday ideas in our Holiday Events and Activities Guide.

Post originally published November 17, 2011