Nearly 300 children will benefit this Christmas from the annual South Portland Toy Drive, double the usual number who received donated gifts in the years before the pandemic.

The pandemic hurt many local families financially and combined with recent higher fuel and food costs, more are in need of assistance this season.

“When the schools helped us out by asking parents what they need and why they need it, so many referenced the times we’re in,” said April Cohen, co-chairperson of the drive. “They’re deciding between heating fuel and groceries and they have to cut back. This is one thing they don’t want to cut back on, but they have to.”

With 201 kids on the 11th annual Toy Drive roster already provided for, another 85 are still in need of sponsors. The deadline to sponsor, or “adopt,” a child, is Tuesday, Dec. 6, with gifts due by Dec. 19. Those who are not able to sponsor a child but still want to contribute can donate a toy at one of nine drop-off locations around the city by Dec. 19.

Since it can be tough for individual families to take on the cost of providing toys and winter gear for an additional child, community members have been adopting kids together, from small community Facebook groups to entire neighborhoods, organizers said.

Toy Drive sponsors receive a wish list for each child. Local businesses, big and small, and city departments from Public Safety to Parks and Recreation also get involved, whether it’s acting as drop-off centers, making deliveries or adopting kids themselves.

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“That’s the thing, to me, that is really fabulous,” said Laurel LaBauve, co-chairperson of the drive. “It is so community-centric.”

The drive requests that those who sponsor a child provide winter coats and boots, too, and that makes parents happy.

“While kids really love to get presents on Christmas morning, their parents are happy to see their kids in a warm coat and boots,” LaBauve said.

Cohen knows that to be true, having been the beneficiary of a toy drive as a child.

“I was one of those kids once,” she said. “My mom and I talk about it. ‘Remember that blue coat you got?’ She remembers it and, I don’t remember much from that Christmas, but I remember that blue coat.”

Monetary donations can be made via the drive’s GoFundme page, gofund.me/465c474f, or their Venmo account, @SoPoToyDrive. For more information, including how to sponsor a child, email Laurel LaBauve at [email protected]

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