N.L. toy drives seeing greater demand for gifts during pandemic

·2 min read
John Pike/CBC
John Pike/CBC

Annual toy drives are underway across the province with Christmas now just five days away.

In St. John's on Sunday, at the Kent's Pond fire station, Sheilagh Guy Murphy and a team of firefighters are taking donations for the Salvation Army from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., an annual drive which is now pushing 30 years of tradition.

"The need is great this year, and the Salvation Army tells us the age group between eight and 14, or 15, boys and girls equally, they seem to get lost every now and then," Guy Murphy told CBC News.

"So I'm putting an emphasis on that … I know it's last minute, I know you've given, [but] those who haven't, I'm here to remind you to please dig a little deeper this year."

Guy Murphy said in a normal year, the annual toy drive would have a party-like atmosphere as she hosted the event from her home and donations rolled in. But, like much else, things have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting public health guidelines.

"We've decided we're going to make it happen, but in a different way," she said.

"We're doing everything according to protocol. Wear your mask, keep your distance, stay in the car and pop your trunk and let us take out the toys."

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

On the other side of the island, firefighters are organizing their annual toy drive for children in need, and are also seeing an increase in numbers due to the hardships of the pandemic.

In Corner Brook, Greg Dinney chairs the annual effort. He said he and his crew are putting together bags of toys for more than 300 children — and he expects even more requests before Christmas Eve.

"There seems to be an uptake in numbers for families. Actually, it's across the board. The hardship that everyone goes through. We are expecting numbers to go up this year," Dinney said.

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

COVID-19 is affecting the entire volunteer operation, with firefighters asking for more cash donations instead of things like dolls and puzzles, as a way to keep everyone safe.

"Monetary [donations] just keeps from hand-to-hand, from toys going from one person to the next person. It's easier for us. We just take the money and go out and buy the toys we need for specific ages," he said.

Dinney said people in Corner Brook can donate toys or money to the fire station right up until Christmas Eve.

The firefighters there are always looking for toys for children age 9 and up, because the pre-teen age group tend to get overlooked.

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