San Jose's Sacred Heart Community Service will give out gift cards and small bags of stocking stuffers this year in lieu of its usual holiday toy drive. (Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart Community Service/Facebook)

Sacred Heart Community Service launched its annual toy drive on Monday, but in 2020, just like nearly everything else, this holiday giving event looks very different, and the needs are much greater.

The San Jose-based toy drive, known as “Toy Box”, has provided gifts to South Bay families for decades, but this year it switched from a festive ‘mini mall’ of toys to a social-distanced line for gift card pick up.

“In light of COVID we tried to do something that involves less contact hence the gift cards,” Demone Carter, director of community engagement said. “We lost that community aspect that was very special…but what we gained is giving families the choice on what to give their kids.”

The switch from toys to $50 Target gift cards certainly didn’t push families away. More than 2,300 families registered within a week — serving at least 6,000 children and reaching the nonprofit’s capacity.

“We always do appointments because even in a normal year there is way more demand than we can fill,” Rachel Wright, director of fundraising said. “Last year we took almost a month to fill up, we had to send reminders to fill up. This year we filled up before our first reminder.”

To her, the speed in which slots filled up indicated how seriously the need is in the community — noting significant upticks in their other programs, especially the food bank.
“This program (Toy Box) in the past, used to be like an extra really wonderful thing for people,” Wright said, “Now this year I think it’s a necessity.”

It is a necessity because there are thousands of families clenching their wallets and their fists, struggling to make ends meet. Without the extra support from Sacred Heart, it is unlikely that the families could shelve out extra money to buy gifts, she said.

“I surveyed the people who registered, and we asked what they would buy with the gift cards and we saw normal things like Legos or skateboards, but 50 to 60 percent of people said they would buy clothes, shoes,” Wright said. “Some of those things, you can imagine if you don’t have an income, you are holding off on buying.”

Parents also indicated they would use the gift cards to buy headphones and other gear for distance learning for their children, Wright said.

The Sacred Heart holiday drive will last for a week and there are many other programs that offer support. To learn more visit: