Technology is a wonderful thing — most of the time. But sometimes it’s what takes Christmas presents away from kids in the poorest county in Minnesota.
Thom Blackbird, who runs the Cass Lake Family Service Center, an agency that helps residents in the town, including those who are not enrolled members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, says about 2,000 people depend on the center for help, including obtaining GEDs, attending at-risk programs for kids, getting computer training, and obtaining employment assistance. And Christmas presents.
Last year, kids in 350 families got toys, thanks to the Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign in Minnesota. This year, none will.
Here’s why. The Marines use an online sign-up form to collect the requests for toys shortly before Thanksgiving. Blackbird says his assistant filled out the form this year, but when she pressed submit, she got no confirmation message. So she filled it out again… and again.
After not hearing anything from the Marines, Blackbird left several messages for the Toys for Tots organizers and heard this week that when the Marines saw multiple submissions, they assumed someone was trying to submit phony requests, and ignored them; all of them. They also told him, according to Blackbird, that they didn’t want to provide toys to two agencies in the same area, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe was already getting toys, to be given only to Native American children.
“They’re doing a fantastic job,” Blackbird says of the Marines, “and I thanked them for their service here and overseas. It’s just a case of technology that didn’t work.”
But there’s no “give” in the Marines’ decision not to include Cass Lake Family Service Center, partly because there are no toys. Blackbird says toy donations are lagging badly — 50,000 are in hand, but 200,000 are needed. It’s a startling drop-off in donations that I’ve, so far, been unable to confirm with the Marines, but KARE, which partners with the Marines, reports a significant enough drop that it’s unlikely there’ll be any extra toys for the Cass Lake kids. Blackbird will find out Tuesday.
It’s a theme repeated all over the country — tough times for grown-ups means tough luck for kids.
So yesterday, Blackbird called 100 families to tell them there’ll be no presents in Cass Lake. “They were all so gracious. I had only one negative response. But, still, I hung up the phone at one point and said, ‘just take me outside and beat me. It’d be better than this.’”
Thom Blackbird can be reached at 218-335-7837.