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How Much Good Does a Great Toy Drive Do?

While giving poor kids toys for the holidays is not a bad thing to do, what sort of long-term good does it do?
As far as I can see, just like buying a token Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless once a year, it allows businesses and well-to-do folks the chance to salve their consciences and feel they have made some sort of meaningful gesture.


When we - or TV stations & organizations - help the parents become financially secure, help the low income secure affordable housing, or assist someone who needs the sort of mental health care that will help them be a better parent or more functional, self-sufficient person we help their children as well . . . and not just for a single holiday. Our State and Federal agencies are not covering enough ground and the funds dwindle each year.

Buy a child a present, he plays with it and remains hungry and poor. Buy a homeless person a Thanksgiving meal and he is hungry again the next morning with his prospects unchanged.

I'm far from a Scrooge, but I guess I'd like to wish that any sort of handouts could be tied to hope and progress . . .
Misdirection 30.Nov.2006 17:55


A couple of days ago, Oprah did a "play it forward" program where people who she'd given money were asked to give to others in need.

In one case, a woman presented a low income single mother with $500 to be used to buy holiday toys for her children. The woman looked confused and not particularly happy. She might have preferred to use the money to buy food, pay the heating bill or the rent or spend it on education that would help her get a job.

Some people don't have a clue.

Yes 30.Nov.2006 18:48


Agree with the premise of your thoughts that real change would be preferable. Gifts of toys for low income children might help their mindset though because they get some. How would they feel if all the kids from more affluent familys got lots of toys and they didn't get any? Food for thought. It's a cold cruel world out there for the poor, I know it because I'm poor and my health isn't real great-I have no health care because I can't afford any, haven't been to see a doctor in a decade. Change is needed but I'm not holding my breath here in this capitalist system where money is worth more than life. Cuba has better health care for it's citizens than the US but anytime universal healthcare is discussed by our elected leaders the free-market proponents scream how it would be communist and how bad that is.

One Alternative 01.Dec.2006 00:10

Ben There

I agree with the overall sentiment here - toy drives are just "bandaids" in a way - and give people a relatively cheap way to feel like they're helping the poor. But on the other hand, speaking from experience, it IS a huge relief to be able to give your kids SOMETHING.

Several years ago, when we were very down and out and almost homeless, I submitted our name to the local action center. We were selected and some sweet, wonderful soul (who chose to remain anonymous) "adopted" my family at Christmas. Not only did this angel buy toys for my two kids, she (I was told that much) bought us all coats, hats, boots, shoes, socks, underwear, and a couple of outfits apiece. She also bought us pillows, blankets, laudry detergent, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, deodorant, and toothpaste. She got us gift cards for books, gasoline and a $100 money order made out to PGE. It was amazing. I was - and still am - overwhelmed.

That was a bleak time for us, and this person seemed to understand how difficult it is when you have to try to choose between doing the laundry and getting a couple of Hot Wheels for your kid.

I understand that not everyone can do this much for one person or family, but a group of people could... and it really makes a difference - at least in the short term. And when you're that poor, getting through the short term is your first priority.

homeless kids 01.Dec.2006 15:49

let's be kind to them

Federal law mandates that kids who are homeless remain in school- having no place to sleep at night doesn't mean you are kicked out of school.

Most schools try very hard, too, to provide any services that the family may need, if that family is still intact.

Imagine the hardship, though, that a 10 or 14 year old esperiences, when all around them in school other kids come back from winter break with new toys, new clothes, new adventures to tell about (the movies they saw, the trip to Grandma's house in California),
Sharing in the holiday gifting can mean so much and help homeless kids feel somewhat "normal" and not quite so singled out as "different" by their poverty, if they can share in booty- at least a little bit.

I agree, though, these programs are really irksome.
It's the tiniest of band-aids and allows the givers (esp when it's a coporation) to feel like they are REALLY DOING SOMETHING- but we should look past that to the kids and realize that for them, it can be an important kindness.

Often, people do learn to "get it" when they get involved with these surface programs- and start to wonder why it is that there is so much poverty in America.

Could it be the billions that are spent in Iraq? or the CEO salaries and profits from Exxon and other giant companies? We can be there to remind people about these connections.

Meanwhile- we preogressive adults will work for the revolution to happen- and encourage all we know to join us in that struggle, for it will not happen in one holiday season.

A fine line... 02.Dec.2006 03:40

Sixpack wabc@mutualaid.org

I know from my own childhood experiences that the feeling of being "less than" the rest of the children leads to low self-esteem and plays an important part in how a child will see themselves as adults, possibly leading to adults who see themselves as failures with seemingly no chance to ever be as good as the "normal people". I think poor and homeless children need "band-aids" too, not to mention a parent who no longer feels quite so guilty for not being able to provide a life for their kids may find it easier to overcome any feelings of inadequacy that could hold them back in their efforts to lift their families out of their current situation. A moment of joy in the realization that somebody on this planet really cares about you is what gives us hope and builds bridges for us to come together as a people...

But that kindness in itself is not enough, and if the giving stops there, then we have failed in our attempts to make meaningful change. Then we are simply soothing our own guilt.

What works for me to make me feel like I really did my best, is when I donate gifts, I donate some of my time AND as much money as I am able to, a long-term gift of love that will make a change in how that person sees themselves and their hopes for the future.

You can give all the band-aids in the world, but a reason to reach for the future, to me, is the greatest gift of all.

. 09.Dec.2006 12:34


I've had real mixed feelings about toy drives too but it's easy for me to have those mixed feelings. I'm not poor and I have the luxury of sitting around and thinking about how toy drives are only band aid, etc. It would great if everyone was on the same page about eschewing the mindless consumerism that runs rampant during the holiday season and that no one in this country was wanting for anything but I also think that it's nice to get a little something special once in awhile, especially this time of year.

Last year, rather than buying a bunch of shit for me and mine, I went to a store and picked some kids names off of one of those giving trees. It felt pretty good to do something, albeit a small thing, for some kid who might not really get any "extras".

What the anonymous giver did for Ben There was awesome. The kids got some toys and the family got some necessities- and a bright spot was created during a bleak time. If you're not into to toy drives, do what was done for Ben There.