The Arizona Cardinals and Desert Financial’s annual toy drives pivots their focus this year to accommodate health concerns surround the global COVID-19 pandemic.
On Saturday Dec. 5, the toy drive “opened” its doors to the public at the State Farm Stadium as well as in a second location at the Tempe Sports Complex for spacing concerns. Because of gathering restrictions set to promote social distancing, procedings were made contactless for guest and volunteer safety.
Visitors came equipped in masks to drop off gifts for donation to Helping Hands for Freedom, an organization dedicated to providing assistance to military families. Throughout the year, they mainly assist in providing financial aid among other services.
“Helping Hands for Freedom serves a real true need for families with financial distress who have lost, typically, a family member to war, or post-war suicide,” said Eric Snelz, spokesperson for the organization in Phoenix.
Mr. Snelz further explained how it was important to find a way to give back while still being conscious of pandemic-related issues.
“This year we can’t have an event at Zoo Lights, which we usually do for our families, so we’re going to have to actually take the gifts to the families,” he said.
In a regular year, Helping Hands for Freedom hosts a large banquet at the Zoo Lights exhibition at the Phoenix Zoo where families the organization serves gather to celebrate the holidays and receive the donations from the toy drive.
Typically a lot of families are helped by these toy drives because they are given gifts that they may not have been able to afford on their own. Last year, the organization was able to bring in around 200 families at this banquet.
After thoroughly disinfecting the toys and sorting them, Mr. Snelz said that all of the team from Helping Hands, including people from Flagstaff and southern Arizona, will start to deliver the goodies they received.
He admitted though that it is a shame that the organization and the families who were signed up for the banquet will miss out on their usual “wonderful gathering.”
Although Mr. Snelz and the people at Helping Hands are hopeful for the results of the donations received by the toy drive, the pandemic hit the organization hard and they lost around $200,000 in funding and revenue this year.
“We could not have events in the normal way and while virtual nice, it’s not the same thing, you know,” he said.
Aside from donations from organizations like the Cardinals and Desert Financial, Helping Hands typically relies on grant funding to support their community efforts.
As mentioned, this year’s toy drive was co-hosted by the Arizona Cardinals, who have been long-time supporters of Helping Hands.
In a promotional video for the toy drive, the Cardinals had Christian Kirk, wide receiver for the team, implore the team’s fans to come out, “to help make this holiday season a little more special for someone in need.”
According to Mr. Snelz, they have worked with the Cardinals before on different events to benefit the audience that they serve. For instance, they have previously organized equine-therapy programs for children and veterans with emotional assistance needs.
“[The Cardinals] are pretty unique actually,” Mr. Snelz said. “They’re one of our strongest supporters.”
As for Desert Financial, the organization has also had a long working relationship with the Cardinals.
For over a decade, the two have partnered on a variety of events, like last year’s “shop with a jock,” to create outreach efforts that engage the community explained Rachel Hunter, spokesperson for Desert Financial.
“We thought if we did a joint one we could make it that much bigger and better for everyone,” Ms. Hunter said.
Both the bank and the team typically will hold separate toy drives around this time each year, but due to strenuous circumstances brought about by the pandemic, the two consolidated their events into one.
“We haven’t let COVID stop us or slow us down,” Ms. Hunter said.
Taking into consideration safety concerns for the virus, Desert Financial has shifted most of its community events to a virtual platform. Even with those restrictions, the Desert Financial team has been able to give back a lot to local organizations.
“This year we’ve literally given back millions to the community and even specifically to COVID-19 relief,” Ms. Hunter said.
This toy drive represents just a sliver of the work that Desert Financial has been responsible for in terms of supporting the community.
Just recently, the organization was able to give $100,000 to St. Mary’s Food Bank to put together a turkey drive in time for Thanksgiving and has also donated money to get students laptops for online learning.
Ms. Hunter expressed how Desert Financial really enjoys helping out specifically with local organizations, which is one of the reasons that they partnered with the Cardinals.
“It’s literally our mission to share success with our community members and employees so this is just one of the many ways that we’re able to do this in a time of need,” she said