Thanks to gift drives and the donors who make them possible, millions of needy youngsters won’t feel forgotten on Christmas morning. But in the push to make sure no child goes without, too often it is teenagers who wind up without any gifts.
By design, most gifting programs target age groups younger than 14.
That’s what Kathy Kinsey learned when two separate gift program coordinators, one in North Port and the other in Venice, told her that the 15-year-old grandson she is raising couldn’t participate. He was too old, they said.
With some toy collection agencies, the focus on younger children is in the name.
Toys for Tots, the country’s biggest force in Christmas gift drives, collected and distributed 18 million toys to 7 million less-fortunate children across the nation last year.
In Sarasota, it collected 70,000 gifts and 14,000 young children found one under the tree on Christmas morning.
This year, Sarasota and Charlotte counties Toys for Tots coordinator, Jim Lamb, expects to beat that.
But “well over half the donated toys are for age groups between 3-12,” he said. And it’s a consistent challenge to encourage donors to buy gifts for children who aren’t quite “tots” anymore, but teens.
The reasons can only be guessed at.
“People think the older kids want stuff that’s too expensive,” Kinsey said.
But this isn’t necessarily the case.
Boys’ wish lists often include clothes and video games. Girls often ask for makeup. Retail gift cards in any amount are a hit for both.
The forgotten teens
Alyssa Reinbolt, founder of the nonprofit group Venice Moms Helping Hands, manages Christmas Angel, a gifting program that matches donors with wish lists. In choosing which list to fulfill, prospective donors see only the child’s first name and age. Most often, the younger ones’ lists are picked up first.
“People want to shop for baby dolls or little toy trucks, but teens are more difficult to pick out gifts for, so often they’re skipped over in favor of younger children,” Reinbolt said.
There is also some expectation that teens understand the financial circumstances that make gifting a challenge in their household, Reinbolt said. Despite that understanding, “it still stings when there’s nothing for them. They’re still kids too,” she said.
Teens are also sensitive to the stigma sometimes attached to asking for help.
Kinsey’s grandson declined to be named in this story for fear of embarrassment. And learning what he wanted for Christmas was difficult for his grandmother, since he didn’t want to burden her with wishes she couldn’t fulfill.
Then there’s the man with the white beard.
“I think teens get forgotten because the younger kids believe in Santa Claus and people want to keep that up for them, but it’s sad when the older ones have to watch the smaller ones get gifts,” Kinsey said.
That’s why she wasn’t deterred when her teen grandson’s age barred him from some gift-giving programs.
She signed him up with the Christmas Angel program Reinbolt runs in Venice and the 15-year-old’s wish list was adopted. It included clothes and video games. But he’d probably like a gift card best, Kinsey said.
Another reason she wasn’t deterred is because Christmas day will also mark her grandson’s 16th birthday.