Many cars arrived Saturday for the annual Toys for Tots giveaway in Prince Georges County, causing the line to stretch about a mile, producing traffic slowdowns on Central Avenue in Bowie, Maryland.
The nine-month COVID-19 pandemic, which has many residents mourning the loss of loved ones, suffering from bouts of sickness and dealing with job loss, made the toy giveaway even more important this holiday season.
“It doesn’t matter the social-economic status, people from all walks of life, because of the pandemic, you could have a $200,000 job, but it’s gone, and you’re in this line. So, one thing you can take from this is that in the end, we all have to come together as a community,” said Sgt. Kwesi Dadzie of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
U.S. Marines joined hands with the county police and firefighters to pass out about 40,000 toys — 3 toys each for 15,000 kids in 5,000 families. Due to the pandemic, the massive distribution was a drive-thru operation, beneath white tents, in the sprawling parking lots of Bowie’s Six Flags America theme park.
There was a concern that the annual event would not happen a few months ago. While the need was more vital than ever, it wasn’t clear if the usual toy donors would participate due to the pandemic. Many were suffering themselves. But other donors filled the void to ensure that children would not be disappointed.
“I was always taught that during times of crisis, that’s when you really find out how strong you are and what you can do,” George Nichols, a deputy chief and a Marine Corps veteran, said. “As you can see, we can still pull things together to make sure the community is cared for.”
“We started this process … months out, trying to make sure we were able to logistically handle all of the families specifically here in Prince George’s County,” said Maj. Pete Smith of the Marine Corps. “This partnership we have between the Marine Corps and Prince George’s County Police Department is the miracle that makes this happen.”
The cars flowed into the parking lot in several queues where police, firefighters and volunteers stood beneath white tents, playing the role of Santa’s elves.
Following social distancing requirements, there were no hugs or handshakes, but police and firefighters said they could sense how grateful children and their parents were as they slipped toys into the trunks or the back seats of the cars passing through.
“Even though you can’t see the smiles because of the masks, you can see it in their eyes, the sense of relief, happiness,” Dadzie said.
Prince George’s County Councilman Mel Franklin, who also attend the event, echoed Dadzie’s thoughts.
“We have families losing jobs, losing houses, that are hungry, homeless, and this brings a ray of sunshine into their lives at a time when we all want to show our love for each other,” Franklin said.