This Christmas marks the 20th year that Tree of Hands will be distributing toys to children throughout the Virgin Islands.
“This year is going to be bigger and better,” said coordinator Alex Durante, who explained that in addition to toys, volunteers will be giving out hot meals in the days leading up to Christmas. “The date is going to be a secret. Listen out for our call with Christmas music. If you hear that, have your kids ready and have them meet us at the trucks for gifts and for food.”
The organisation aims to deliver 1,500 gifts this year on Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda, and Anegada.
Fire Chief Zebalon McLean will be head Santa this year, she said, and there will be a high number of volunteers.
Ms. Durante said Rite Way Food Market is offering 50 percent discounts on toys bought for the cause and the Tortola Lions Club is providing trucks and deejays, as well as donating toys. Additionally, she added, Harneys pledged to raise $10,000 toward the hot meals and toys.
“We’re reaching out to restaurants and asking them to cook dinners,” Ms. Durante said. “We bring the raw material.”
People off-island who want to contribute to the cause can buy gift certificates or give cash donations.
Though the event usually includes a wrapping party, the pandemic changed the way the organisation will handle gifts this year.
Mr. Durante has asked that all donated gifts come wrapped and labelled for children in a certain age group with a two-year age gap. For example, if a toy says it’s for age groups “3-plus,” it would be marked for ages 3-5. Gifts can also be marked for boys or girls.
“That’s how we’re doing it this year because of Covid-19,” she said. “We don’t want a whole bunch of people in one area wrapping gifts and touching things and wiping down utensils. It’s just easier to drop off [pre-wrapped] gifts.”
Drop-off locations include E.C. Soap Co. on Main Street, CrossFit Castaway, International Motors, and Cedar International School.
Ms. Durante said the need for toys and hot food is great.
“We have a lot more kids this year because people aren’t in jobs,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have money and won’t be able to buy presents.”
Ms. Durante advised all parents and children to practise social distancing, look both ways before crossing the road, and bring cameras to take pictures with Santa.
She encouraged restaurants to reach out if they are able to cook some food for the event, and also urged contributors to support local businesses when buying toys to donate.