Seminole schools still need more than 1,000 toys as donations dwindle

About 2,000 Seminole County Public Schools students could use donated holiday gifts this year, but the district has collected only 400 toys so far and is hoping the community can help fill the gap by next week.

“Our need has grown so much,” said Misa Mills, the district’s community involvement manager who oversees the toy collection effort. “We have wonderful donors,” she said. “It’s just not enough this year.”

School social workers recommend students for Seminole’s “Giving Tree” program, referring families who are homeless or otherwise facing significant economic struggles. The district aims to provide three toys per child plus two books, gifts their parents can wrap and put under their Christmas trees or give during other holiday celebrations.

The book donations are covered by Barnes & Noble and Scholastic, Mills said, but the community typically provides the toys and, to date, there are far fewer than needed.

The district planned to wrap up its toy collection effort on Monday but has extended that until Dec. 13, hoping to encourage more donations.

Across the country, from Pennsylvania to California, other charities have reported similar toy drive shortages, with organizers saying more demand for help and ongoing worries about inflation are to blame.

“It’s the economy. Everything has gone up. Groceries, gas, everything is extremely high. People are barely making it,” said Renita Turner, a Jacksonville barber shop owner whose annual toy drive is also facing limited donations this year, in a recent interview with News4Jax.

Mills said SCPS helped about 1,500 students last year and expects about 2,000 in need of holiday assistance this year.

But monetary donations are down, with $2,000 collected so far compared to about $10,000 last year, and so are toy donations.

Mills said she started to worry a few weeks ago when the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office annual “pack the patrol car” toy drive — which benefits the district’s effort — collected fewer toys than in the past. Another bad sign: Online toy donations via Amazon, which in past years required a van to deliver packages to SCPS headquarters in Sanford, have been just sporadic.

Most of the toy requests are modest — a basketball, a Barbie doll or a board game for younger students and cologne or a Walmart gift card for teenagers, Mills said.

“We’re hurting as a community, and I understand that but if someone could by one basketball,” she added.

Those interested in helping can find toy suggestions and links on the district’s website (scps.k12.fl.us) with instructions on how to drop off toys at the district’s headquarters, use the SCPS Amazon list to buy toys online or make a monetary donation that district staff will use to shop for students.

Once the toys are in hand, district staff and school resource officers package them up for each student and deliver them either to their schools or their homes, aiming to finish deliveries before the semester ends on Dec. 20.