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Due to COVID-19, Christmas Bureau will be drive-through only, registration online

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo

The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Bureau distribution of toys and food to low-income families in Syracuse will look a little different this year, due to the pandemic. The organization is still expecting a big turnout.

In a normal year, about 2,700 families go to the Oncenter and are guided by volunteers who go up and down aisles of toys, books and games, as kids pick out a big toy, get a bag of stocking stuffers and families get a box of food. A line around the block usually forms early in the morning.

But this year, with COVID-19 restrictions, registration is online only. More than 350 families signed up on the first day of registration. Distribution will be drive-through only at the Post-Standard building in downtown Syracuse. Volunteers will load food boxes into cars.

“This is really starting from scratch in a lot of ways and recreating it,” said Linda Lopez, executive director of community services at the Salvation Army. She said no walk-ups will be allowed.

“You don’t want to create lines and places where people can’t socially distance,” Lopez said. “Everybody has to stay in their vehicles.”

Centro will be running a shuttle bus back and forth from the downtown hub. There will also be a stationary bus, if there are walk-ups.

Kids will still get toys, although they won’t get to pick them out in the normal way. The Salvation Army is working out the logistics of that. Volunteers will be wearing personal protective equipment and kept in separate groups.

“So that if for some reason there was an exposure, it would be ten people, not 1,000 people,” Lopez said.

With the event being COVID-safe, Lopez said they could still see a significant number of families. They’re planning to hold the event over two days, Dec. 16-17. Registration ends Dec. 8.

Lopez said the community is pulling together to make sure this event continues in a year that’s been hard on families and kids.

“We are not going to make it harder by not having holiday support,” Lopez said. “We are going to figure out how to do this.”

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.