With less than four weeks to go until Christmas, Kristyn Begari has been rushing to find enough doll styling heads to give to kids in need.
But, the purchasing coordinator for the California-based nonprofit Family Giving Tree says it's been difficult to find them, or racially diverse Barbies or Disney princess dolls. Others charities who give to kids during the holidays say they're also facing challenges finding enough gaming consoles, laptops and other electronic items amid the global shortage of chips used in cars, phones and other devices.
"I’ve never seen something like this," Begari said. "Our biggest fear is we’re not going to get the quality of gifts that we want, or we’re not going to have enough in general."
Attempting to grant thousands of holiday wish requests has always been challenging for Begari. But it's been downright miserable this year as the global supply chain bottlenecks create shortages on many items, making it difficult to grant many holiday wishes for the 34,000 children and adults the organization expects to aid in the Bay Area this holiday season.
Some wholesale vendors have already informed her that purchases will not arrive -- giving her the option of getting a refund, or buying another item. If a child doesn't get their preferred gift, she said the organization will attempt to grant their "second wish," or find another replacement item.
Similar worries are being felt across the country as COVID-related supply chain snafus — produced by clogged U.S. ports, a lack of workers to move the cargo and skyrocketing shipping costs -- lead to empty store shelves and higher prices on some products.
The supply chain slowdown is one of the main reasons why donations of new toys to The Toy Foundation have declined by nearly 80% in dollar value this year compared to 2019, according to Pamela Mastrota, the executive director of the group, which was formed by a toy industry trade association to act as an industry-wide charitable collective for manufacturers.
The lack of trade shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic also put a wrench in their collection efforts for the second year in a row, straining their ability to get gifts for sick, impoverished or other vulnerable children who are in need.
"It’s been a real challenge this year, and last year," Mastrota said. "But this year especially."
Mastrota’s only hope now is if more toys are donated quickly. But such donations might further stress the profit margins of manufacturers who are facing high shipping costs and pressure to pass on increased costs to consumers.
Jim Silver, CEO of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, a toy industry review website, says charities are bound to see less toy donations from manufacturers this holiday season because many containers holding their products are stuck at U.S. ports, which have been experiencing record volumes of shipping containers as the economy recovers from the pandemic.
"There is going to be a shortage," he said. "Without a doubt."
Last month, President Joe Biden announced plans to establish around-the-clock operation at the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, to tamp down the inflation being caused by ships waiting to dock and a shortage of truck drivers to haul goods. Port officials have said some of the bottleneck has since eased, but experts note it will take a long time before things get back to normal.
Silver notes small and mid-size manufacturers who largely produce toys in countries like China are feeling squeezed by the supply chain problems more than larger ones. However, the disruption is also being felt at MGA Entertainment, the American toy giant which makes Bratz! and L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls.
Isaac Larian, the company’s CEO, says they’ve only been able to meet 70% of the demand for items because the company is waiting for hundreds of containers full of toys to clear the California ports.
"These goods are not going to make it to Christmas," Larian said. And the toys that are in stores now cost 23% higher than they did last year, he noted. His advice for anyone looking to get a toy is simple: shop now.
Despite an earlier planning process, many gift requests for gaming systems and other items submitted to One Simple Wish have been out of stock, or are facing major shipping delays, said Daniella Gletow, the founder of the organization, which works with social service agencies across the country to facilitate holiday wishes anyone can grant for children in need.
"That’s obviously holding up our ability to make sure that we’re going to be able to fulfill all these needs in time for the holidays," Gletow said. "Because our goal is to get everything out by the week before Christmas."
To avoid further delays, she says the organization is encouraging donors to grant wishes earlier than they have in prior years.
Toys for Tots, the nation’s most well known toy donation drive run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, is not expecting shortages, said David Cooper, the organization’s vice president of operations. He said the organization purchased about $16.5 million worth of toys this spring to mitigate any impact supply chain issues might have on donations.
There are concerns more families might register to receive toys from them this year due to higher costs. However, a Toys for Tots spokesperson says early indicators for their holiday collection efforts point in a positive direction.
Some of their donations in the past have gone towards The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, which also collects gifts for children and families in need during the holidays. The organization estimates about 5 million gifts are donated each year though the program. Though this year, Kenneth Hodder, Salvation Army's commissioner, says there are concerns many kids might not receive their gifts on time.
"We are encouraging everyone who has generously supported us in the past, and who would like to do so again this year, to shop early and to get those toys to us as quickly as they can," he said.
At the Christian relief charity Samaritan’s Purse, the concerns center around shipping delays. David Thompson, the senior director for the international portion of the group’s "Operation Christmas Child" project, says the organization is aiming to send 9.7 million shoeboxes filled with Christian materials and gifts to children in more than 100 countries. But a shortage of truckers, delivery equipment and other factors have slowed things down.
"We have to be flexible," Thompson said. "But our in-country teams, volunteers and logistical networks are strong. And we’re confident that the program will be carried out at the same level of excellence in scope that it has been in the past."