By Deborah Hamburger
Around the winter holiday season, my office typically resembles a miniature FAO Schwarz. Puzzles and Lego sets get stacked on top of my filing cabinet; dolls are arranged on my windowsill; board games are piled in the corner next to my bookcase; cars, trucks, and trains form a caravan in front of my desk; books, hats, scarves, and gloves spill into the hallway. I (very generously) carve out a small walking path for my officemate, enabling her to wend her way to her desk, in return for which I “borrow” the back half of her space for infant toys, craft projects, and sports equipment.
But not this year. My office remains unoccupied, devoid of both humans and their playthings. Who would have guessed back in March, as the pandemic began its assault on the East Coast, that nine months later I would still be working from my dining room table? That as summer turned to fall, the Toy Drive, a multi-week event involving the collection and distribution of thousands of dollars’ worth of toys to JCS client families, would not be feasible due to the coronavirus?
Coordinating the Toy Drive is, by far, the most rewarding part of my job. Every year, beginning in October, I start the process: contacting past donors, publicizing the event with our marketing department, pestering staff to submit client families’ wish lists, and cleaning out my office to make room for the onslaught. The realization that this JCS tradition would not materialize this year was depressing. Many of our clients who come to JCS are in dire financial straits. Their lives are filled with stress. The knowledge that gift-giving isn’t in the budget simply adds to the strain parents feel during the holidays, particularly in a year like this one when pandemic challenges have been added to the mix.
But 2020 has become the year of “innovation” and “pivoting.” With the help of our marketing department, we decided to solicit monetary donations from the community at large with the intention of purchasing gift cards for JCS parents who, in turn, would use these gift cards to purchase gifts for their children. Because we had never run a campaign like this, we were unsure what the results would be. Imagine our surprise and delight when we procured enough funds to purchase gift cards for 120 JCS children! JCS staff have shared with me the numerous messages of thanks that they have received from their clients, including one mother who told her therapist that she was “thrilled” to be the recipient of the gift cards. Another mother of 3 who had been recently laid off from her job expressed her relief at just having to worry about getting the right present for her daughter instead of worrying about whether she could afford to purchase presents at all.
So, although my office is empty of the usual toys, books, games, and puzzles, my heart is full of gratitude for how our community stepped up and responded to make this holiday season a little brighter for our clients. I sincerely hope that the Toy Drive is in full swing come 2021 and my office once again is filled to the brim with gifts for our clients.
If you or someone you know would like to take part in this worthwhile program, feel free to donate at any time during the year.
Deborah Hamburger is a Volunteer Coordinator at Jewish Community Services.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.