The process of making sure every child has a toy for Christmas is definitely a very rewarding experience. The elves (TFT Parade volunteers) at the Chicago Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade warehouse volunteer from sun-up to sun-down, starting the day after Thanksgiving until the end of January. It is not unusual for these Santa's helpers to put in between 12 and 14 hour days, seven days a week. Some of Santa's helpers even choose to take their work vacations and spend them in a warehouse full of toys, instead of on a beach drinking tropical drinks.
To the general public it looks as if toys magically appear in big bags to be whisked away on Santa's sleigh and put under the tree for many eager children on Christmas Day. Well, this is not the case. Some people may also think that this process starts in December. In actuality, the process begins in January, as soon as Christmas time ends. The reality is, this is a long, labor intense process that can be very stressful at times.
The toy warehouse committee workers would like to familiarize everyone with the process. For starters, during the months of November through January, an additional warehouse is donated to us to store the overflow of toys that come in during our busy season. This warehouse is set up and labeled with boxes and bins to help sort the toys by gender, age group , and type of toy. There are special areas reserved for games, balls, bicycles, Legos, Nerf guns, remote control cars, Barbies, and arts and crafts, just to name a few. There are also areas in the warehouse designated for toy pickup, toy drop-off and toy packaging. It is an extremely well organized process. As the thousands of toys start to come in, volunteers pull the boxes of toys off the trucks and start to organize them. There is a constant inflow of toy boxes upon toy boxes. As this is not the volunteers only duty, it can be really hard to keep up. Every box of toys is not only organized into its proper position but each individual toy is also listed into the toy inventory and permanently marked so that a Grinch cannot get a hold of a toy and take it back to the store for a refund or gift card. Santa is catching on to all his tricks. Needless to say, marking and sorting thousands upon thousands of toys is time consuming.
As toys start to come in, so do bags filled with hundreds of letters requesting toys. There are generally two types of letter writers. We receive many group letters, which could be from domestic violence shelters, orphanages, churches, hospitals, etc. We also receive many letters from single families who may have fallen on hard times and are in need of help. Volunteers are appointed to open the letters, read them, and make sure they meet certain requirements. For instance, all groups need to have a current 501(C)3 form and all single families must have proper identification, such as a medical card, for each child receiving a toy. Once the letters pass and are approved, the information in the letters is entered in a spreadsheet for our records. These letters are then given to our elves to fill the requests. There are also rules that must be followed while filling the letters. For instance, groups are limited to 150 toys regardless of the size of the group, because groups generally get toys from more than one organization. Single families receive three toys per child, along with smaller gifts as crayons and coloring books or board games. Filling the letters is time consuming as we want to make sure we give age and gender appropriate gifts. Once toys are selected and packed they are placed in a designated area and arrangements are made for them to be picked up.
While some elves are sorting toys and filling orders, some are assigned to door duty. There are certain times when the packaged toys can be picked up, and at times the lines can be massive. People that come to the warehouse, are eagerly awaiting their packages, and every person is greeted with a warm smile and with the sound of Christmas carols in the background. The people must present the proper identification and appropriate paperwork, and are then helped to their vehicle.
Now we have covered basic day to day operation, but the one thing we have not covered is where do all the toys come from, and how are we able to fill all the orders necessary to keep this operation running smoothly? First and foremost, they come from the wonderful people, mainly motorcyclists, that donate to The Parade organization. That being said, it was mentioned earlier that this process really starts in January and this is how it works. After all the packages are packed and gone, most of the elves go home to celebrate Christmas and all the wonderful work they did with their families, but a few are still working. The warehouse that was so graciously donated needs to be emptied and cleaned out. The toys that are left over are transferred over to the main warehouse, organized and stored as start up toys for the next year.
The day after Thanksgiving is a busy day for Toys For Tots. Not only does the Toy Committee start pulling toys for orders, but the Box Committee starts placing toy drop off boxes in the area to be filled. These boxes will be collected on December 21st. The only toys we have to start up with are the toys that have been stored since the year before. The elves use these toys to fill all the orders for large groups that have been requested. We appreciate the help and support we get not only at Christmastime but all year around. It is extremely important that all rules are followed to keep the toy operation running smoothly. Thank you!
The Toy Committee of The Chicago TFT Motorcycle Parade
by Gwenn Fox
TOYS FOR TOTS
HOW TO REQUEST A TOY
This website is dedicated to the memory of TFT Parade Member Ed May
who created the first Parade website, with Jack Voss, in 1999.
This format was designed by Sharon Allen, and is now maintained by Jack Voss.
Copyright 2018. Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade Org. All rights reserved.
The Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade Organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity. Our mission is to provide toys to individuals, youth groups, shelters, hospitals and group homes throughout Chicagoland.
To request a toy, you must mail an actual letter to us, and remember we do not accept emails, texts, or fax. The letter must contain a brief description of the need, along with the age and genders of the children and the contact information. All toy requests are thoroughly examined and vetted by volunteers from our Toy Committee. All letters must be in our hands by December 20.
Send your letter to:
Chicago TFT Motorcycle Parade
P.O. Box 388500
Chicago, IL, 60638
Chicagoland Toys for Tots does not donate to charities other than the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. If you are a charity looking for toys, you may contact them at www.toysfortots.org.
For more information on our relationship with the Marines, click here.