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‘Way out of budget’: High-priced toys bring challenges this year for the Christmas Bureau

Volunteer Damon Taam laughs as he adds batteries to a toy dinosaur for the Christmas Bureau last year.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Volunteer Damon Taam laughs as he adds batteries to a toy dinosaur for the Christmas Bureau last year. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Buying toys for the Christmas Bureau is a year-round job, and this year was no different. But one thing that changed this year was how long the toys took to show up after being ordered, if they showed up at all.

Some toys ordered in January and February didn’t arrive until September and October, head toy buyer Cheryl Taam said. While that allowed organizers to save money on storage fees, the timing was tight.

“A lot of things are back-ordered,” Taam said. “We weren’t sure we were going to get it. We were keeping our fingers crossed quite a bit, because I didn’t want to have to start looking for things in October.”

The Christmas Bureau, in its 77th year, is a joint venture of The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America. Each year, hundreds of volunteers hand out grocery store vouchers and a toy and book for each child to those in need of help at Christmas.

The toy selection was also more limited than usual. One toy manufacturer that typically had a toy catalog of between 50 and 60 pages was instead putting out a catalog of only 30 pages.

“Availability was a problem,” Taam said. “In many cases, we had to choose something else because what we wanted wasn’t coming in. We had to take what we could get.”

The ongoing inflation has hit the toy market.

“Prices were high – a lot higher than we expected,” she said.

Each child served by the Christmas Bureau gets one toy to take home, but Taam said she would usually order some small items that could be packaged together with larger toys. But the prices of those smaller items went up so much this year she couldn’t order any.

“It was way out of budget,” she said.

She has been buying some drones and karaoke machines every year for teenagers, but had difficulty finding them this year. New ones simply weren’t available, but Taam said she found a company that still had some inventory from last year and was willing to sell them to her at last year’s prices.

Despite the roadblocks, Taam and the other volunteer toy buyers took pains to find and order high-quality toys that they believe will be popular. They ordered new kinds of items and bought from new companies to make everything work.

“Our selections are a little different this year,” she said. “We’ve found new things we haven’t had before. We got a lot of really cute things this year. I’m looking forward to playing with them.”

In response to rising prices, Christmas Bureau organizers have increased this year’s fundraising goal to $600,000. The goal last year was $535,000. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 29, with readers receiving progress updates every day through Christmas. A story reporting the final amount raised will run Jan. 1.

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