Handing out toys, clothing and food to nearly 2,000 low-income or homeless children and their parents was challenging enough last December during the height of the coronavirus pandemic’s winter surge.
But this year, there may be an even greater challenge: supply shortages.
The nation’s ongoing supply chain crisis — which has left ships lingering for days outside the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, containers stacking up at terminals, chassis for trucks hard to find and warehouses overflowing — has, for months, threatened to cause shortages ahead of the holiday season and slow the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
It’s a problem that has spurred involvement from the White House and Gov. Gavin Newsom — but it’s also one that has no easy fix.
And now, with containers still stacked up at the twin ports and the holidays in full swing, the New Image 27th Annual Children’s Christmas Store, about a month from opening in Long Beach, is fearful of having enough toys to give out this year.
“In one word, containers,” Lynda Moran, New Image’s deputy director, said. “We lost our biggest donor and they provide 65% of all of our toys. We confirmed them back in July. But now with the problems at the ports, they decided to make a professional decision and leave the containers there until the first of the year.”
In 2020, cars lined up behind the Hilton Hotel in downtown Long Beach. Children were met by elves who took them to a hand sanitizer station, where they also received a Christmas mask to wear. The children were then led to different tables filled with clothing, books, electronics, toys, and bicycles, scooters and skateboards. Everything was disinfected before being placed on a table.
“Last year, Santa was behind a glass partition,” Moran said. “Kids wanted to touch him, but they couldn’t.”
This year’s event will be back inside the Hilton from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18. The event is by invitation only. Families do not have to live in Long Beach — the Christmas Store will provide for at-need families no matter where they’re from in Southern California — but they must be referred by a social services agency, community business or church, and must bring a letter confirming their proof of eligibility.
Moran and her twin, Brenda Wilson, New Image’s executive director, didn’t see eye-to-eye about whether to have last season’s Christmas Store. There was no disagreement this year.
“We are hoping to provide gifts for about 1,500,” Moran said. “We have been in agreement because we started receiving calls in May for help. We knew we would both have to be on-board.”
Neither sister remembers the situation being this dire.
“We are chasing money,” Wilson said. “It’s the worst ever. We can’t get the toys. Some places are closed. The need is there, but the toys are not there. We won’t be able to help as many children as we usually do, but we still want to get 3-to-4 toys to each child and we want them to get shoes.”
New Image is not alone in that struggle.
Fears of holiday shortages have existed for months, as the pandemic-induced cargo surge crippled the supply chain. And while some initiatives have improved things a bit of late — including the threat of fees against ocean carriers who let containers linger at terminals too long, a program twice delayed and set to begin Monday, Nov. 22 — the progress has been slow going.
Stories of folks waiting months to get their online orders are not uncommon. Coffeeshops and movie theaters have signs warning some ingredients may not be available because of the supply-chain bottleneck.
And in September, a toy executive offered some ominous advice:
“Get out and buy toys now,” Ed Desmond, executive vice president of the Toy Association, said when he joined Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka‘s September briefing. “If you see toys you think the kids are going to want for Christmas, pick them up now and tuck them away to make sure you have them.
Right now, stores have a pretty healthy supply,” he added. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen when we get down the road closer to Christmas.”
Moran certainly does now.
“This year, in addition to COVID, we are dealing with the monkey wrench of the acquisition of toys,” Moran said. “It’s been horrible. Practically everything is at the docks: Bikes, scooters, skateboards, everything.”
Still, the Christmas Store is not short of allies.
Jean and Jerry Green, for example, have been frequent donors since reading a newspaper article about the Christmas Store some time ago. The organization and its mission, they said, resonated with them.
“I went down to the Christmas Store and was very moved just seeing the kids pick out gifts,” Jean Green said. “It is so heartwarming. Lynda and Brenda are loving, caring people and we want to help them.”
The sisters have been helping people in need for more than 30 years.
They founded New Image Emergency Shelter for the Homeless, a Long Beach nonprofit that helps those living on the streets throughout Los Angeles County. The nonprofit provides multiple services to those who are homeless, including temporary and permanent housing, case management and help with job searches.
But now, with less than 30 days until the Christmas Store opens, the sisters are worried they their supplies will only be enough to provide gifts to fewer than 1,000 children.
“We are doing our due diligence, but unless someone steps forward and helps us with the toys, we may only serve half of our goal,” Moran said. “Now I am asking all of our donors at the last minute to please come through.
“Supply and demand are the real challenge,” she added, “but I am confident that God will make a way.”
Information or to donate: Lynda Moran, 562-822-7657; Brenda Wilson, 562-972-4441; or newimageshelter.com.
To drop off toys or clothing, go to New Image’s corporate office, 4201 E. Long Beach Blvd., Suite 218, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.