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Toys for Tots keeps trucking amid COVID

| December 10, 2020 12:00 AM

Visions of children gleefully opening presents and playing with their toys at Christmas warm are iconic holiday memories for most of us. And thanks to the tireless efforts of a new local Toys for Tots coordinator and her corps of volunteers, many Flathead Valley children in need will get to make a few Christmas memories of their own.

Kudos to Kelly Hamilton for stepping up to lead the Toys for Tots toy collection and distribution as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamstring many charitable programs. She is the first non-Marine to run the local program, but is drawing on years of volunteer experience with the Salvation Army.

Toys for Tots traditionally has been a partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and the Salvation Army. But this year, the national organizers felt they couldn’t keep up with the patchwork of state and local regulations around COVID-19 in each community.

In Hamilton’s book, however, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the community response has shown that Christmas spirit is alive and well in the Flathead.

It’s been a very tough year for many local families; that’s evident by the number of applications for assistance that have doubled this year. Last year, 12,584 toys were distributed to 816 local children.

Toy donation boxes have been placed at about 100 local establishments this year, and according to the Toys for Tots local website, today is the last collection day. Consider donating a toy or two and make it a memorable Christmas for our children.

Speaking of toys, things are going to be a little different this season at Kalispell Center Mall’s Christmas Village.

Good little boys and girls who want to meet Santa Claus will be asked to follow a few protocols to keep the jolly guy safe from COVID-19. While children will still be able to share their wish list with St. Nick, they won’t get to sit on his lap, and a plexiglass divider will be put in place to keep children and their families from interacting directly with Mr. Claus.

Meanwhile, Santa’s elves will be working diligently to keep the area sanitized, and visitors socially distanced while in line.

It’s all a worthwhile effort to keep a beloved holiday tradition alive, noted Brett Harker, a marketing representative for the mall.

“People don’t want to give up on everything,” Harker said. “Hopefully it’ll work out.”

We agree with Harker’s sentiment, and applaud mall officials for going above and beyond to keep everyone safe without throwing in the towel on a special Christmastime memory for kids and parents alike.