Flint, MI— Christmas came early for 900 Flint children on Monday thanks to a quarter million dollar donation from Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and his family.
Gores partnered with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to give away 10,000 toys, bicycles and Kindle tablets to Flint and metro Detroit families between two drive-thru events.
Flint’s toy drive was held at the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in Flint. Participants stayed in their cars while volunteers loaded them up with bags of toys and bikes.
The program is in its 14th year but due to COVID-19, organizers said they had to rethink the process.
“Typically, in the past, when we have giving events, we would have a shopping event where they could go to tables and pick from there… This year, obviously, everybody’s safety is so important but we still wanted to make sure families were able to get toys. So, this was the best way we could do it,” said Tanya Vanhorn , a Gores family member and event organizer.
The toys are reserved for families who demonstrate need, like stay-at-home-mom Alisha Reed who said the pandemic has complicated her family’s financial situation.
“There’s a lot of us who are struggling, but we’re still able to make ends meet,” she said.
She’s been attending the toy drive since 2015 and said it has helped make Christmas better for her three children.
Reed also said she feels uniquely connected to the toy drive because her uncle, the late Terry Furrow, played for the NBA.
“My uncle, he played with some of the Pistons players… [and] when my uncle passed, they all came to his funeral. It was real nice. I miss him,” Reed said.
Toys for Tots Coordinator of Genesee County Vicky Mickenthale said turnout was unexpectedly low this year. Applications to participate in the program were down by 60%.
“We usually normally do between 3,500-5,000 children. This year, we’re only up to 900. The National Toys for Tots Foundation…they told all of us from California to Maine to expect triple numbers this year. And I’m triple numbers down,” Mickenthale said.
She said she speculates the low numbers are due to the pandemic.
Since the program’s inception, the Gores Family has helped deliver over 120,000 gifts to Michigan families.
“It’s so important for people, hardworking people, to have presents under the tree. It brings them laughter and joy and smiles. And that’s why the Gores Family does it,” Vanhorn said.
For Mickenthale, who has been with Toys for Tots for over 12 years, she said her work helps her sleep at night.
“I can feel comforted knowing Christmas morning when my kids and my grandkids wake up and have something that other kids do too.”