Limited by COVID, Kent County Toys for Tots seeks donations

A Toys for Tots van is packed with toys for Kent County children until it’s practically overflowing. (Submitted photo/Dennis Sipple)

DOVER — Every Christmas Day, as eager children tear into their presents to find what Santa Claus brought, countless mothers and fathers give thanks to Toys for Tots for helping make the holiday gift-giving possible.

The nonprofit Marine Toys for Tots Foundation spreads the holiday spirit by allowing needy parents to give their kids presents most of us take for granted.

It reported providing toys to 7.3 million children across the country last year and regularly supports around 900 Kent County families each Christmas.

But this year, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc across all segments of American society, the organization is in need of assistance.

Events such as a holiday party at the Little Creek Fire Co. and the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware’s breakfast with Santa have been canceled, according to Toys for Tots coordinator Dennis Sipple. Meanwhile, fewer businesses have filled up their donation boxes.

Some local entities have stepped up, such as A to Z Cycles, which has offered a van to fill with toys and has worked with other local businesses to bring in donations to cover the gap, Mr. Sipple noted.

Still, the impact of the pandemic is undeniable.

Families typically come to the organization’s storage facility on Galaxy Drive in large numbers, where they’re greeted by volunteers. This year, however, parents are allowed to come only by appointment, and they must remain in their vehicles, with the toys loaded into their cars by workers.

Masks are required, and only about seven volunteers are there at one time, as opposed to the normal 10 to 20, Mr. Sipple said.

“I normally call in forces and say, ‘I need to fill these bags. Come on in,’” he said.

About 375 families have already been helped by the organization this year. In 2019, according to the Kent County Toys for Tots’ website, nearly 11,400 toys were provided to more than 3,400 local children, thanks to generous donors from Milford to Smyrna.

A wide variety of toys is donated or purchased by volunteers. Families submit wish lists, although many do not request anything specific. Video games and clothes are fairly common asks, but ones Toys for Tots can’t meet — it doesn’t accept clothes, and video games prove to be too expensive for the nonprofit to purchase.

Some of the most popular selections are LEGOs and LOL dolls, according to Mr. Sipple.

Toys are separated by gender and age, and volunteers pick out a small, medium and large toy for each child.

“I’ve actually seen people in there picking who saw something, and they run to get that specific toy,” recalled Mr. Sipple, who handles Kent County and Milford.

He’s hoping people who take advantage of Black Friday deals can spare a little extra money and purchase a new toy or give funds to the foundation to do so. Individuals can email to donate.

There will also be drive-thru drop-off events Dec. 6 at the Dover YMCA (1137 S. State St.) and at Little Creek Fire Co. (311 Main St.). The former will be accepting donations from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while the firehall will have volunteers there from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mr. Sipple hopes to have toys distributed by Dec. 19, allowing parents some peace of mind knowing there will be presents under the tree come Dec. 25.

For Mr. Sipple, who has been involved with the nonprofit for 22 years, it’s a labor of love. One year, after a family reported having their toys stolen out of their car on Christmas Eve, he went over to meet them with a gift bag that night.

He ended up as the chief coordinator almost by default: “Nobody else really wants to do it because there is a lot of paperwork, a lot of reporting you have to do to the foundation every week.”

There’s no pay, but for Mr. Sipple and others like him, helping the less fortunate is enough of a reward.

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