Buying toys is an important part of the Christmas Bureau, which provides a new toy and a book to every child along with a food voucher for each family who comes in for help.
The Christmas Bureau, run by Catholic Charities, the Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, relies on community donations to run each year. This year’s fundraising goal is $535,000, which is up $10,000 from last year’s goal.
Toy prices and transportation prices have been rising in recent years, but this year’s addition of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods made things even more difficult, toy buyer Cheryl Taam said. It’s important that the charities get the most bang for their buck, so they try not to pay more than $20 per item.
Toy buyers are busy year-round. Last October, they placed an order for an item manufactured in China.
“Then the tariffs came on,” Taam said. “They add approximately 25%. Of course, they pass some of that on to us. It makes a lot of the toys not affordable.”
The company wanted to add $5 or $6 to each $26 item, but Taam was able to negotiate that down to an additional $4.
“In order to get that deal, we had to order enough to get them to do a special run for us in the factory in China,” she said.
Taam said she and her fellow volunteer toy buyers changed tactics this year.
White Elephant toy buyer Bill Kuch handled all the toy buying tasks for many years before he retired. He died in 2016, and the charities struggled to replace him.
Last year, the charities worked through a toy broker to place orders. Taam said this year they decided to do it all themselves:
“We just decided we were going directly to the companies as much as possible.”
The plan worked, but it required a lot of volunteer time to pull off.
“We worked hard in the beginning of the year,” she said. “There were times of 8-hour days.”
Taam had her eyes set on Legos, which she hadn’t been able to get before.
“It took me two to three months just to get authorization from Lego International to buy directly from them,” she said.
“I had to write letters. I had to assure them we wouldn’t sell them on Amazon. That’s why it takes so much time.”
Taam said she would often send links to Spokesman-Review stories written about the Christmas Bureau to let companies know that the bureau is a cause worth supporting.
As always, it’s a bit of a guessing game to decide what toys to order. Taam said she pays attention to what’s popular and what movies are coming out.
“One of the main things we think about is, ‘What do kids put on their Santa wish list?’ ” she said.
The Christmas Bureau served 16,451 children last year, a record number.
Taam said she believes that number will go up this year, but she has to walk a fine line between ordering enough toys to go around and not having a lot of toys left over that will have to be stored until next year.
“We’re nervous,” she said. “We don’t know how much it’s going to go up this year. We struggle with that issue every year.”
The toy buyers will have to deal with tariffs for the foreseeable future.
“We’re pretty well stuck with it,” Taam said. “There’s nothing the toy companies can do about it. That’s why we need people to step up and do more.”
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