Charities Wary of Donated Toys

Posted December 4, 2007 4:23 a.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2007 4:29 p.m. EST

— With millions of toys recalled this year, charities across the country are struggling to play Santa.

Charities from Goodwill to the Salvation Army are either refusing toy donations or devoting more time to inspections before toys are distributed.

The U.S. Marines are doing double-duty inspecting merchandise for their annual Toys for Tots drive, said 1st Sgt. Karl McCants in Jackson. McCants said every toy received will be screened.

Millions of Chinese-made toys were recalled this year due to high levels of lead, including Mattel toys featuring Big Bird and Dora the Explorer and RC2 Corp.'s Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway. Earlier, Aqua Dots, made in China and distributed in the U.S. by Spin Master, were recalled because the product was tainted with a chemical that can turn into a date-rape drug if swallowed.

About 1 million Easy-Bake ovens by Hasbro Inc. were also recalled earlier this year after reports of about 250 children getting their hands caught in the oven's front opening.

Parents are being reminded that disposing of the toys this holiday doesn't mean dropping them off at a local charity.

Salvation Army national spokeswoman Melissa Temme said about 150 Salvation Army Thrift Stores in the South have stopped accepting toy donations because of the recalls.

Temme said the Salvation Army is seeking additional volunteers to help sort toys and alerting social service clients about the recalls.

Goodwill Industries International doesn't have a national policy regarding toy donations and sales, said spokeswoman Christine Nyirjesy Bragale. She said each Goodwill organization sets its own policy, but so far those in Honolulu, Boston, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Denver have stopped accepting toy donations because of the recall.

At Goodwill stores, which sell donated items to fund job training programs, all toys are inspected against recall lists, said Bragale.

"I have heard of a couple of Goodwill stores saying they have a lot of Mattel recalled toys, but so far not many," she said. "People need to know that for Goodwill, dealing with recall products has always been part of our business process."

The Hawaii branch stopped taking toy donations in August. Now, it's going to stop selling toys altogether, whether they're labeled as made in China or not.

Goodwill Industries of Mississippi president Darby Sowell said the six stores operating in his jurisdiction are still accepting toys. Sowell said there's no rigorous inspections of the toys, and he isn't worried about the recalls because most of the toys are secondhand.

"They're the old toys that the boys and girls have been using. They don't fit into that group that has been recalled," Sowell said. "If we knew about it, we would not accept it or sell it. With all the masses that come in, it would be difficult for us to tell where these have come from."