Meet the LA County Toy Loan Program – and a “toyrarian”
It is not well known, but it is one of the oldest and possibly the most important operations of its kind in the country. The LA County Toy Loan Program began during the crushing poverty of the Great Depression and has since expanded to around 50 centers, scattered across the county in schools, county buildings, and various purpose-built organizations. non-profit.
Listen: LA’s game library must pivot during the pandemic
Centers can be as small as a cabinet on wheels with doors open only a few hours a week, to a library shelf, to an entire room full of toys. Either way, the program works the same.
Children from low-income families choose a toy to take home and play with for a week. Each time the child returns a toy on time and in good condition, he gets a point and then borrows another toy. As they accumulate points, they receive little incentive gifts, like a Beanie Baby or a toy car, but – with their eyes on the prize – at 20 points they receive a full package of toys, including often a new bike.
The program is meant to be fun for building the character.
“We always redirect them to our Toy Lending Honor Code, which includes honesty, patience, courtesy, promptness, cleanliness, cooperation and accountability,” said the Volunteer Programs Coordinator, Brenda Gonzalez Camacho.
But when the pandemic struck, such an important program was deemed too risky to continue. And so, many toys were collected and sent to quarantine – to three different toy warehouses.
The main toy depot, in a county social service department building on Grand Avenue in South LA, is something like a large library, except the shelves are completely stocked with toys, not books.
Parents request their children to participate in the toy loan program through a one-page form.
The program has a secondary objective: to establish relationships with parents who accompany their children to toy lending centers, so that they have access to other services offered by the host organization – whether it is a school , a county or nonprofit vocational training office.
Without regular contact, Gonzalez Camacho and his employees had to be creative about what to do to keep children and families engaged.
So they pivoted. And instead of loaning toys, they decided to donate new toys that had been donated by local toy companies.
But that, too, had an underlying motive: keeping the kids in online classes. One idea was Toys for Attendance, which gave incentive points and small toys to kids who constantly signed in to their Zoom classes. And by the end of the semester, the kids had a whole bunch of toys to keep.
Meet a Toyrarian
At the toy lending center in a county office in East LA, I met community health worker Evelyn Meneses. She acts as a “Toyrarian,” in toy loan parlance, which means she is a toy librarian and manages the loan program.
Each toy lending center follows the same general rules. However, they have some flexibility in deciding how to distribute the gifts they receive from the central toy lending office.
When the pandemic ended the loans, Meneses returned the used toys to the central depot and shifted gears to create giveaway programs. Now, when she receives shipments of toys, they are distributed to children at driving events.
Some of the toys were also distributed through the county’s Adopt-a-Family program.
Toy donations are welcome
Families are eager to see the toy loan program restart, Meneses said. The return of the toy loan will depend on how the pandemic progresses, and on each of the host organizations and on staff and volunteers.
And when that calms down, the toys in the warehouse will come out of quarantine and return to the toy lending centers again.
The Toy Loan Program accepts cash, donations of new toys, used toys in good condition, and books suitable for children up to 17 years of age. Those that cannot be loaned to children due to the difficulty of disinfecting after each use may end up being given to families to babysit.
The program is always on the lookout for new locations that have volunteers available regularly for at least two hours per week to manage the toy inventory and interact with children and parents.
To volunteer or donate, call the Toy Loan Program at 213-744-4344. You can also see more details on the program’s website.
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