A few years ago I helped set up for the Care for Real toy drive distribution day. This involved sorting donations by age and placing them on the appropriate tables. The age range with the most gifts was 0-3. Those toys were piled onto a row of tables with many more waiting in back for replenishing throughout the day. Meanwhile, the gifts for teens fit on a single table with no extras in back. The Executive Director commented that the teen gifts probably wouldn’t last the day. That is, families arriving later might have to give their teens gifts meant for younger kids or have no gift for their teens at all.
Last year Care for Real provided gifts for over 800 children. 35% of those children were ages 13-17. That means Care for Real needed about 280 teen gifts last year. Clearly the table above is not enough.
The phenomenon of older kids being overlooked in toy drives is not unique to Care for Real. For programs like “Angel Trees,” which allow people to choose a child to sponsor, the youngest ages tend to go first, followed by older girls, and finally the older boys.
Why are older kids so often overlooked in toy drive donations? I can think of a couple of contributing factors.
First, the word “toy” makes people think of brightly colored plastic things that appeal to younger kids. We don’t think of teens wanting “toys,” so we don’t think of teens when shopping for a “toy drive.” This is why I prefer to say “toy and gift drive.”
Second, when we think of things that teens want we often think of expensive electronics, which are usually beyond the amount that most of us plan to spend on a toy drive donation. Luckily there are a lot of affordable gifts for teens. Here are a few:
- Sports equipment: basketballs, soccer balls, baseballs and gloves, footballs, tennis rackets, tennis balls
- Art supplies: Colored pencils, paint, brushes, sketch pads
- Games: board games, card games
- Journals: a blank journal or one with daily prompts
- Movie passes and gift cards
- Jewelry and purses
- Make-up, lotion, perfume
- Hats and scarves
The fact that older kids are so often overlooked in toy drive donations is unfortunate because teens are much more aware of what they have or don’t have than a baby or toddler. They are the ones who will be back at school surrounded by people talking about awesome Christmas gifts when they got very little or nothing at all. Teens are moody enough without getting shafted on Christmas.
Ever since that first day helping sort the Care for Real toy drive donations I have focused my own donations on older kids, and I hope you will too. I’m not saying that the little kids don’t deserve presents, but there tend to be more than enough donations for them.
If you are near Chicago’s far north side you can drop off a new, unwrapped gift at a variety of locations and get a perq for donating:
- The Coffee Studio, 5628 N. Clark – Get a free gingerbread man for dropping off a toy or gift.
- George’s Ice Cream & Sweets, 5306 N. Clark – Get a free scoop of ice cream for dropping off a toy or gift.
- Foursided Custom Framing Gallery, 5061 N. Clark – Get a free greeting card for dropping off a toy or gift.
- Maddiebird Bakery, 1445 W. Devon –Get a free cupcake for each toy or gift you donate. Maddiebird is also accepting donations of non-perishable food items also for Care for Real.
- Toys Et Cetera, 5311 N. Clark – Purchase and leave a toy for Care for Real and the store will donate another one. (Tip: Games and toys for older kids are in the back to the left.)
Toy donations for Care for Real are being accepted until December 15th.
If you there are other toy drives you choose to support please consider focusing on gifts for older kids. Kids don’t “age out” of deserving a happy holiday.
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