Donations down for toys amid COVID-19

Photo Courtesy Toys for Tots
A giant bear brightened the Christmas of a Kern Valley child.

By D. Beasley

With the downturn in the economy from COVID-19, demand will likely be up for the Kern River Valley Toys for Tots program.

At the same time, donations are headed in the opposite direction, Yvonne Pickerell, the program’s coordinator, said.

“With so many people out of work, the funds aren’t there,” she told the Kern Valley Sun. “And there are so many businesses struggling as well. I don’t see that there will be the support we have had in the past. But there will be a greater need because more families are struggling.”

When times are hard, children realize the situation and sometimes don’t even expect a present under the tree on Christmas, Pickerell noted. That makes Toys for Tots all the more impactful. Members of the American Legion deliver the toys the week before Christmas break so that parents can wrap them and place them under the tree for Christmas.

“Children understand that somebody cares,” Pickerell said. “But it’s not just for the child, it’s for the parents too. It gives the family hope and encouragement.”

She told the story of a 4-year-old who was so traumatized by his mother’s death that he stopped talking. When he received his toys on Christmas, he suddenly spoke again.

“It was very heartwarming to be able to help these kids who had been through such a rough, rough year,” Pickerell told the Sun.

Each year, the Kern Valley group distributes more than 1,000 toys. The non-profit organization, which is supported by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, accepts donations of new toys that can be dropped off in bins placed in the Kern Valley area. Visit for a list of drop-off locations. You can also donate cash by visiting

Toys for Tots has relationships with retailers that allow it to purchase toys at half the price of what they would normally cost in the stores, Pickerell said.

“Financially, it makes more sense to donate money, because I know what age group and gender and I can fill those needs at less expense than a regular consumer,” she said. “But my goal is to collect toys and get toys to children. If somebody isn’t comfortable giving Toys for Tots money, they can always buy a toy.”

When there are shortfalls in toy donations, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation always makes up the difference, Pickerell said. The Kern River Valley Toys for Tots organization is only one of more than 800 nationwide.

“We are all struggling this year,” Pickerell said.

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