The application period had opened barely one week earlier and already head elf Megan Simmons saw a trend that worried her.
“We already have about 100 applications and probably 75% are from new families, so I’m concerned with not having enough gifts,” said Simmons, who spearheads the Jackson County Toys for Tots program.
And with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ latest restrictions regarding public gatherings, an upcoming trivia night fundraiser to help replenish its coffers might also be in jeopardy.
Although the coronavirus pandemic continues exacting a toll on every facet of 2020 life, Simmons said she is convinced the public’s charitable attitude will prevail to make Christmas 2020 a great one for children in need.
The nationwide U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program provides free gifts for children age birth to 17 years who are in need. Locally, the program distributed about 1,500 gifts to about 650 Jackson County children (or about 250 families) in 2019.
The Toys for Tots application period opened Nov. 1 and continues through midnight Nov. 30. Applications are online-only this year because Operation: New View and Maquoketa City Hall, where paper applications typically are available, are closed to the public due to COVID-19.
Recipient families will receive a mailed letter with gift pick-up instructions during the first week in December. There will be contactless pick-up and staggered distribution dates to reduce crowds of people, Simmons explained.
Gift distribution will begin the week of Dec. 14 on some weekday evenings and the traditional Saturday pick-up Dec. 19. Recipients will be asked to show their approval letter and identification through the window of their vehicle, and volunteers will load the gifts into their vehicle.
And as another COVID precaution, this year community volunteers will not help with the toy-bagging process.
About 80 riders took part in a mid-October toy run, giving toys and cash to Toys for Tots, but more events are tentatively planned.
The white Toys for Tots collection boxes with the red toy train logo are located in businesses throughout the county. The collection boxes will be in the community through Dec. 15.
The number of collection boxes has decreased due to the pandemic because many lobbies which housed them are closed to the public.
“We lost some of our spots for the boxes that are usually good spots,” Simmons said, “so if any other businesses want (a box), we welcome that.”
Cash donations can be sent to P.O. Box 731, Maquoketa, Iowa 52060. The Toys for Tots committee tries to purchase as many gifts as possible in Jackson County to keep that money local, Simmons said.
Three Maquoketa High School groups are sponsoring a drive-up toy drop-off event Dec. 9 in front of the school, located at 600 Washington St. Members of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Business Professionals of America, and Student Senate, are organizing this toy drive effort. Donors simply drive up and students will take their toy donations.
“This could potentially be a really big (fundraiser) for us this year,” Simmons said.
The public also can enjoy a night of trivia while raising money and toy donations. A special trivia night is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Dec. 11, at The Timber Center, Maquoketa. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and trivia begins one hour later.
Cost is $50 per team of eight and one toy per player. All money and toy donations stay in Jackson County. RSVP to Simmons at (563) 357-4547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to the pandemic, the number of teams will be limited and trivia tables will be separated to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Organizers will decide one week prior to the event whether it will be held, Simmons said.
For more information, call Simmons at (563) 357-4547, visit jackson-county-ia.toysfortots.org or check on Jackson County Iowa Toys for Tots on Facebook.
“We’re just holding onto hope,” Simmons said. “We’re trying to be really positive, keep the kids of Jackson County in mind. There’s a lot of families struggling in Jackson County as we struggle to plan this drive for them.
“We want this to be a good end to 2020.”
Toys for Tots Dropoff Locations
Maquoketa State Bank
Bellevue State Bank
Clinton National Bank
Clinton National Bank
Maquoketa State Bank
Preston - Clinton National Bank, Maquoketa State Bank, Dollar General
To be added to the list, call Megan Simmons at (563) 357-4547.