Santa is on a hiatus from visiting my home these days, so the elf in me gets it’s fix by toy gift giving.
Since I’ve had the empty nest, my favorite Christmas shopping is for the annual Toys for Tots drive. It’s nice to help other parents and grandparents ensure their children have toys under the tree.
Do you have a favorite holiday gift drive you regularly participate in run by a local charity, school, church, hospital or military support group?
I absolutely love shopping for the kids, and doing so fills me with a special kind of holiday happiness.
Today, I’m sharing my six reasons why it’s the perfect combination of playing Santa, retail therapy, and spreading a little goodwill.
Won’t you join me in some virtual shopping?
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6 Reasons Toy Gift Giving Gives Back
- Sheer fun of shopping for Santa gifts for children who need them
- Reliving happy memories of my own sons’ joy during Christmas and the toys they loved
- Giving back unto others through small acts of kindness – ’tis the season!
- Escaping the often toxic, divisive political & cultural environment that encompasses a 24/7 news cycle — retail therapy!
- Thinking of the happiness parents & grandparents will have in selecting the donated toys for their kids
- In the quiet of Christmas morning, imagining local children’s delight when they discover the toys under the tree
A Family Tradition and Giving Local
In past years, our family toy gift giving was via the Angel Tree at our church. Each of our sons would choose a gift for a child their age. Now young bachelors, I’ve very proud of their generosity to less fortunate children in their own urban communities.
Through NY Cares and his company, my eldest has been toy gift giving for a boy and a girl every Christmas. I’ll never forget several years ago, when he called a little overwhelmed. There he was, a single guy in the craziness of the flagship NYC American Girl store. He was trying to select appropriate dolls for twin girls.
In addition to our church, I also like supporting small, local businesses that provide drop-off sites for the Toys for Tots drive. My owner of my local dry cleaner is an immigrant. She’s always so excited and appreciative when I add my donations to the large cardboard box.
Toy gift shopping must be done early, because Toys for Tot drop-off dates are in the early part of December. That’s to provide the Marines and their volunteers adequate time for the pickup, sorting and distribution of toys in time for Christmas.
So, I usually go shopping the week before Thanksgiving, looking for sales and deals that stretch my donation dollars the furthest. It’s a nice time to kick off the holiday season too. Being thankful and toy gift giving is a fulfilling thing to do.
Last Year’s Toys
I discovered this ride-on pirate ship by Little Tykes through Kohl’s online last year. It was reasonably priced, will grow with the child and is very durable with a lot of play value.
Living in a household of lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fans, I hosted multiple pirate theme birthday parties for my boys.
While cruising the aisles at Toys R Us ,I found beautiful quality FAO Schwarz stuffed animals 40 percent off. Both my boys received stuffed brown bears when they were born from their dad. It was love at first sight when I held the squishy caramel-colored bear.
We often referred to our youngest son as, Wild Thing. He was particularly infatuated with elephants. And while most kids wanted a pony, every year he asked for an elephant! He always got an elephant-something, just not a live one!
That’s his now adult bedroom in the picture above. See the animal prints and pith helmet on the bedpost? When I saw the giant elephant and giraffe, I couldn’t get them into my cart fast enough. As a result, I spent more than plan. Hubby took one look at everything and his only concern was that I couldn’t seem to stop hugging the bear…!
Remembering My Favorites Too
When I was little, I had a Madame Alexander baby doll. She had a dark head of hair like mine. When wound-up and put her on her side, she slowly rolled over.
Do you remember a cherished toy from your childhood?
With two boys, Santa never brought a baby doll. This choice was for me! If you never had a daughter, you’ll surely appreciate my joy in buying a baby doll.
I was delighted when I found this cloth-bodied little angel at Kohl’s online. She didn’t disappoint and was of a very high quality and durable for toddler love.
When making my toy gift giving list this year, I made sure to include another Madame Alexander baby doll. She was my splurge this year — I went over budget again! My husband thought she was the best toy I brought home and just smiled.
I’m going to be defenseless when I shop for grandchildren someday!
Making List & Checking Twice
Since I’m not working from a child’s Santa wish list, part of the fun of toy gift giving is doing a little research. To create my shopping list, I begin by reviewing this year’s “Best Toys” on Pinterest and the Internet. Some lists rate quality toys by age group, others compile the hottest or most desired gifts.
I usually concentrate on toys for kids under the age of 8 (prime Santa believers). Then, I look for deals to make my toy gift giving dollars go the furthest. It’s not volume of toys, but gifts that may be harder to buy for families of limited means.
In the past, this meant buying for boys. I liked to buy toys I knew my guys had loved or would have liked (Star Wars, Lego’s, Tonka Trucks, etc.). Now, I imagine what toys I might purchase for my great-nieces or if I had grandchildren.
Online Best Toy Lists
Here’s a few sites you may want to look at, whether you are buying for Toys for Tots, or your own kids and grandchildren.
20+ Best Toys for Kids This one caught my attention when I saw Teddy Roxpin. He was one of my oldest son’s favorites until he poked Teddy’s eye out with a wooden spoon! One-eyed Teddy no longer talked or moved, but he and his friend Grubby still got a lot of hugs and playtime.
Although the $100 toy didn’t make my buy list, it drew me to review the other toys on their list. Toys ranged from $4 to a whopping $300, with most in a more moderate range. Each was listed by category, such as “Best New Release” and “Best Wooden Toy.”
Not only was this ice cream counter on several best lists, but it elicited fond memories of the year my eldest son wanted an ice cream maker he had seen on TV. And, it was at the very top of his Santa list. Trouble was, millions of other kids saw the same commercials! He wasn’t worried, because Santa’s elves would make exactly as many as needed.
This elf was sweating it out! Remember, it was still in the dark ages, with no cell phones or Internet.
When I called toy stores, they laughed at my naivete about finding the ice cream maker. I put an APB out to relatives located across the East Coast. Finally, I found one in a broken, taped-up box, but undamaged inside. Santa ditched the box and set the ice cream maker and supplies under the tree.
We all had a lot of fun playing with it. Since youngest son has a Christmastime birthday, I made the cake and his brother made the ice cream for his party that year.
Parents not only offers toy recommendations by age, but also for groups like “Kids with Special Needs”, and other unique categories.
Good Housekeeping Best Toys 2017 I found this list the most informative and useful for toy gift giving. The site says, “Our experts vetted 500-plus new toys for safety, quality and skill-building. Then we asked the toughest critics — kids — to name the “bestest” of all.”
They also segment by categories, including “Best Educational Toys.” The site was an elf’s treasure trove of ideas.
Wooden Role Play Toys Caught My Fancy
Melissa and Doug was a line of toys I saw repeatedly on the various lists. I found a good selection of their “role play toys” at numerous stores, including Home Goods.
All the Melissa and Doug toys I bought were made primarily of wood with plastic accessories. I liked their imaginative play value, durability, and the fact that they may be passed down or given to other children over time.
One or Two for the Doggy
A really popular toy on multiple lists was the board game Soggy Doggy. But, it took me stops at three stores to find one — everyone was out-of stock.
My local paper says it’s destined to sell out early. I had to have it, knowing my sons would have loved this spin-and-get-wet game, Heck, I think they’d like it now!
A helpful clerk at Toys R Us said the computer showed they should have one in the store. She searched until she found it slid behind other games. I was delighted! Somewhere, sometime, someone is going to get wet on Christmas afternoon!
Speaking of doggies, I had to have this lace-up toy, because of the Scotty dog included in the package. My Fibber is a Scottish Highland Terrier. With only four-inch high legs, he’s the last little boy left at home. At Christmas there are Scotty images on everything, but this $3 impulse purchase at Target won’t break the bank.
Meet Fibber at, Sweet Scottie Dog: My Fuzzy Funny Valentine.
Giving is a Year-Round Activity
There is so much need and many good causes that need support in donated goods, money and volunteer efforts all year long. My husband and I focus on several charities for year-round, ongoing financial support. That includes the Free Health Care Center where I volunteer, the Salvation Army, and our local food bank.
At Christmas we usually mark the holiday with added support for the troops, children’s charities through our church, and the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund. But, toy gift giving is such a fun, tangible, and fulfilling seasonal activity.
What are your favorite holiday charities? Any toy recommendations you’d like to share?
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I see a Winston in your pix—she still loves it at 28!
I also have habitually given toys to tots-it transcends all religions…and always brings a smile to my face when selecting the perfect and many times nostalgic gift.
He does look like Winston! Don’t forget, I get to buy your grandchildren’s first bears too! Maybe some year we can go toy shopping together?
We always buy a few things for toys for tots and any unopened gifts from last year that my kids weren’t interested in (or just forgot about) gets added to the pile.
I’m wondering what will happen with the program this year in the US now that Toys R Us closed — they were the big sponsor? Thinking too there’s a lot of families in CA and FL with the disasters who will need help this year.