By MICHAEL WALSH, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (November 21, 2007) - Maryland's traditional holiday toy drives are being pickier in accepting donations this winter—with good reason.
Recent recalls of toys made in China, including products featuring popular characters such as Dora the Explorer, Sesame Street, Barbie and "Cars," have prompted more scrutiny of what visitors drop in the donation bin this holiday season.
China supplies close to 80 percent of the toys sold in the United States. The toy company Mattel has issued four toy recalls in the last six months—the most recent on Oct. 25.
The recalls include more than 10 million toys, most because of paint containing high lead levels.
Christine Nyirjesy-Bragale, of Goodwill International said her organization is bracing for the impact of tainted toys.
"We haven't gotten many of those items yet," she said. "But we expect them to start showing up in our donation streams. Dealing with recalled products is part of our process. There are people who have had things for 10 or 15 years and then forget they were recalled and try to donate them."
The recent recalls are putting the brakes on some area toy drives.
"We have to look through toys we've had from the last several years," said Chuck Whiten, a captain with the Salvation Army in Annapolis. "It is going to add to the time it takes to get the toys to the children because we have to have someone on staff go through every toy that we have and make sure that they're not on the (recall) list."
The number of toys donated to the Salvation Army in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County is roughly the same as previous years, he said.
The Maryland-Washington, D.C., area has nine Goodwill retail stores and six intended donation sites. However, the recently recalled toys have not appeared among the donations, yet, said Brendan Hurley, vice president of marketing and communications for Goodwill of Greater Washington.
"We should start to see more of them as parents get their kids new toys and dispose of the old ones," Hurley said. "I believe the situation will get worse as we head to late December and into January."
Because of the surge in recalled items, new processes have been put in place to ensure that the tainted toys aren't passed on through donation.
Whiten said his organization has asked that donated toys be left unwrapped to cut down on the time it takes to identify a recalled item.
"We have a very compressed amount of time so it's going to make it more challenging," he said.
Goodwill International has sent out a checklist of toys and their product codes to help individual stores weed out recalled items. Some stores also have their own code checklist, Nyirjesy-Bragale said.
"The policy and procedures are likely to vary from Goodwill store to Goodwill agency," Nyirjesy-Bragale said. "What we've seen at many Goodwill agencies is that the list is very long; if there's any doubt they put the toy in a bin and double and triple-check the code."
The donated toys in the Maryland-area are processed first before they are put on the shelves for purchase, or given to a toy drive.
"When the toys are donated to us they're immediately sent to our production center," Hurley said. "We compare them to a master list using product codes and if any match, employees are directed to dispose of them immediately.
"We also have the codes posted in each of the toy sections in our stores, so customers can compare the codes for themselves."
Even with the precautions at the stores and the production center, Hurley and Goodwill want the givers to take the initiative in discarding recalled toys.
"We strongly urge any donors to look at the toys and match the codes to Goodwill's master list on our Web site before donating them," Hurley said.