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Operation Holidays short on toy collection amid pandemic

News Photo by Julie Riddle Lois Worth, of Alpena, drops off 32 hand-knitted hats to be distributed to children through the Operation Holidays toy and food drive.

ALPENA — About 2,000 area kids are counting on Christmas gifts that may not show up under their tree.

The Operation Holidays toy and food drive, sponsored each year by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 and the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583, has been hit hard by changes forced by the coronavirus pandemic, and organizer Tammy Kish is worried that there won’t be enough toys to go around.

Many moms and dads will have a hard time buying toys this year, Kish said. Coronavirus-related business closures and cutbacks hurt many workers, leaving little cash for extras like gifts.

Extra unemployment benefits from the federal government helped out-of-work folks for a while. Those benefits ended this summer, though, and many still have not been able to return to work.

Now, a monstrous new wave of coronavirus infections means a new wave of people pushed into unemployment by the reclosure of indoor dining and other precautionary measures. Those people aren’t yet receiving benefits, Kish said.

At 470 meals, the organization’s deliveries of Thanksgiving dinners was down by 300 from last year. Kish thinks that’s not because planners didn’t have enough food to distribute, but because fewer people needed the help to fill their tables because of extra food stamp help from the state during the pandemic.

As of now, however, Operation Holidays doesn’t have enough toys to help.

About 1,000 households in the Alpena region, or over 2,000 children, have requested help with toys this year.

In past years, traffic from Neiman’s Family Market — next door to the toy drive collection center in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center — helped bring in cash and toy donations. The grocer closed in September, though, and few people are stopping by the collection center.

“I’m used to 30, 40 people walking through the door a day,” Kish said. “Now, I get two a day.”

Most years, stacks of donated toys are brought by groups volunteering to help wrap gifts.

With a limit of 10 people in the building, that wrapping help can’t be accepted this year, though, and gift donations are suffering as a result.

Kish isn’t sure gifts will get wrapped this year. Her small crew of helpers will start boxing what they have next week, working as fast as they can to make deliveries as early as possible, in case another stay-home order is announced.

Toy donations will be taken until Christmas at the collection center. Hopefully, Operation Holidays will have enough people to help make the deliveries, Kish said — and, hopefully, there will be enough toys to go around.

“The kids need some normalcy,” Kish said. “A lot has been taken away from them. But we still want to be able to give them a good Christmas.”

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To Donate

WHAT: Unwrapped toys, children’s winter gear, and cash donations

WHERE: Operation Holidays collection center, next to the former Neiman’s Family Market in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center, Alpena

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Dec. 24

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