SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way agencies, organizations and groups collect and distribute donations. This holiday season is no different, as we head into the second under the pandemic.
From a grassroots effort to a grand operation, groups in San Jose are already collecting toys for kids.
For Marine Toys for Tots San Jose, COVID-19 cut the number of donation drop sites in 2020 from 370 to 73. This year, they've seen an improvement. San Jose Coordinator Sgt. Manuel Gomez said Toys for Tots has doubled locations and they've seen the return of local donors.
"A lot of companies have been in contact with me saying, 'I was unable to contribute last year because of the pandemic, but we contributed a couple years ago,'" Sgt. Gomez shared. "So, just glad to know that those companies and organizations are reaching back out."
Sgt. Gomez said Toys for Tots is expecting to meet pre-pandemic distribution goals, reaching more than 100,000 kids within Santa Clara County.
"We try and get toys in the hands of as many less fortunate kids in the county as we can," he told ABC7 News.
This year's distribution is scheduled for December 12th at City Hall.
Elsewhere in San Jose, for the first time with just two toy collection sites, small business owners from San Jose's Japantown and local social media influencer Jorge Gomez, or @sanjosefoos on Instagram are building the San Jose Toy Drive from the ground up.
They've made it so contributors can donate either in-person or online, through an Amazon Wishlist.
Naht Nguyen with Zonkey Toys said, "The thought of them not having a great Christmas, it can break your heart."
Nguyen said Zonkey Toys held the first toy drive of this sort on its own in 2020, but expanded after there was interest from others.
Kitamura added the growing effort is a reflection of community helping community.
"I think there's a really rich, multi-cultural tapestry here and I think we're seeing that with this event," Kitamura told ABC7 News. "If you look at the list of donors, they come from all walks of life, all different types of occupations, ethnic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and I think that's what San Jose's about."
He described the city as a "big small town," considering so many people within the community are connected. Kitamura said he feels for the kids, especially after all they've been through.
"I think, with COVID and everything, we've all felt that the kids have kinda gotten a bum deal for the last few years," he shared.
For that reason, he partnered with the others for the San Jose Toy Drive.
"We're not a big company, we're not a nonprofit or anything. We're just a bunch of people," influencer Gomez said.
He's used his Instagram account to get the word out, reaching his 61.7k followers and more.
Beyond collecting donations, the group behind the San Jose Toy Drive has also involved more than 50 local small businesses to give back to the donors.
"When someone brings in a toy, they get a raffle ticket for every item they bring in and they get put into a prize pool," Gomez explained. "And at the end, we're going to draw a raffle ticket and you're gonna get a handful of prizes from all the local businesses."
The prizes are worth more than $12,000, according to Gomez.
Kitamura added, "There's a sense of comradery. I can tell you, we just had two people come in, donate like ten toys and then refuse raffle tickets. They didn't even want prizes. They were like, 'Look, we're a small business, we just want to help the cause.'"
Gomez said 250 people have already requested toys, equating to between 400 - 500 children. He said the last day to request is December 9th. The last day to donate is December 15th. Pick-up is December 18th and 19th with an organized drive-through at Zonkey Toys.
"The main thing is unity," Gomez told ABC7 News. "Everyone kind of wants to do things on their own, but once we all come together, that's when great things could happen."