For the last 13 years, Santa Fe firefighter Rollin Tylerr Jones has helped put together the Northern New Mexico Toy Drive for children and teens in need. This year, he’s making some changes to ensure each child gets exactly what was on his or her Christmas wish list.
In the past, most people have donated toys for young children and toddlers, but most children in the program are between the ages of 10 and 18.
“It seems like in years past, I’ve kind of given a lot of stuffed animals to teenage boys and girls because people donate a lot of stuffed animals,” he said. “So I’m trying to give them something they would like, you know, give them a gift that they will appreciate.”
Jones said the pandemic has made his efforts even more important, as a growing number of families had their lives turned upside down over the last two years. Throughout, he noticed the fire department was getting more calls related to substance use and domestic violence issues that have torn families apart.
“With COVID, you know, the foster system has taken in a lot more children,” Jones said. “So for a lot of kids, it’s going to be their first Christmas away from their family.”
The toy drive will benefit roughly 1,000 children through organizations that include the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department Foster system; the Santa Fe Indigenous Center; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Casa Familia Homeless Women’s and Children’s Shelter; and St. Elizabeth’s Homeless Teen Shelter, among others.
Jones said the drive also will provide toys to hundreds of children in Taos, Mora and San Miguel counties who lost their homes and were affected by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.
“I know the holidays are a great time of year for a lot of people, but there’s children out there that are in a really hard situation this year,” Jones said. “And we want to give them at least one day when they can just feel like a kid. Just like, wake up, and Santa showed up. You know, feel like they weren’t forgotten.”
While Jones started the toy drive with the Santa Fe Fire Department years ago, it has since branched off and is now led by Los Alamos-based real estate agency Exit Realty Advantage NM. Other organizations and businesses, including Meow Wolf, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Opulent Fine Jewelry And Furs, are involved.
As part of the toy drive, organizers are planning events like a Christmas tree forest at the De Vargas Mall, where children can take their list to Santa Claus, and an ugly sweater contest. Jones said he hopes to encourage more local businesses to join the drive.