CHICAGO - Kenyatta Smith got a call last Christmas morning from a parent with a desperate plea.
The parent couldn’t afford toys for their children. They asked if they could come to his church the next week for gifts left over from its annual Christmas toy drive.
"My response was, ‘Christmas is not next week,"’ said Smith, pastor of Another Chance Church at 9550 S. Harvard.
He hopped in his car with several toys and delivered them that afternoon to the family’s home in Gary, Indiana. "The kid says, ‘We’re going to have a Christmas after all,’" Smith recalled.
That special moment, he said, shows the value of the toy drive, now in its 10th year.
But this year, the drive is at risk of missing its goal of 25,000 toys for 4,000 children, Smith said.
Toys cost more now due to inflation. And corporations that have donated to the church’s charity, Operation Cover Chicago, have cut back this year amid fears of a recession, he said.
The church still needs 10,000 toys to reach its goal, Smith said. He’s asking for monetary donations to cover the gap.
"Look in your heart and think of the time you’re able to give some love to a family member. Today I want our community to be your family," he said.
A donation of $35 will cover a toy for one child. Donations can be made at https://gofund.me/454bf734 or via Cash App at $OCCHICAGO. Checks can be made payable to Another Chance Church, or donors can also text OCC22 to 44321.
This isn’t the first year the toy drive has struggled to meet its goal. Last year, the church pleaded for help after experiencing a donation slump it attributed to unemployment and other financial hardships stemming from the pandemic.
The church fell about 20% below its goal and gave away around 20,000 toys, Smith said. This year, the church has received many calls from parents asking if the drive is still happening.
"That lets me know this has such an amazing impact," said Ashley Washington, who works with the toy drive.
Operation Cover Chicago has other programs beyond the toy drive. It has sponsored a gas giveaway, provides mentoring, is involved in violence prevention, and has a housing initiative that has saved more than a dozen homeowners from foreclosure.
The charity is a "bridge between our community and resources," Smith said.
Some of the toys this year will be dispersed by other groups throughout the county, Smith said. "We recognize that our community has expanded to all of Cook County over the pandemic, because they are in need," he said.
The toy drive isn’t just about the toys, Smith said. "We’re not just giving a toy, we’re giving hope," he said.
Smith recalled one Christmas as a child when he woke up to no presents. It’s stuck with him his entire life and has been a driving force behind the toy drive.
He considered the effect of the donation last Christmas to the family in Indiana. "To see that smile from the kid, that will stick with me for the rest of my life," Smith said.
Toys will be distributed at Another Chance Church at 7 p.m. Dec. 21.
For more information, call the church’s office at (773) 253-7474.