Keizer-centric group donates toys to families in need


The season of giving is upon us, and the effects of COVID-19 can be felt across the community. From parades to toy drives, many seasonal staples have been canceled.

For the past five years RJ Navarro has functioned as a bridge between veteran services and the Salvation Army to help with their Toys and Joy event (formerly known as Toys for Tots), but this year he has been hard pressed to get a straight answer from the organization as they tried to figure out logistics and safety guidelines for the toy drive.

“We weren’t hearing back from the people that we usually work with, so we just decided to do it ourselves,” Navarro said, and thus the Keizer Gift Group was born.

The group consists of Keizerites who want to give back to the community and are receiving toys from the same veteran services that Navarro has worked with in the past.

Families can sign up to receive help from the low-barrier drive at, they can also be referred by a teacher, or the Keizer Police Department (KPD) who will then be responsible for delivering the gifts.

“This is the first time we’ve done it as just our own community instead of working with Salem,” Navarro said of the Keizer Gift Group. They are testing the waters to see if this is something that they want to continue every year.

One thing that Navarro wanted to emphasize that sets this program apart from others is their commitment to non-discrimination. No matter one’s immigration status, language, gender or race, they can come receive help from the Keizer Gift Group; there is an option to change the language on the online application to make it as easy to access as possible.

Navarro said that families receiving help from other organizations, such as Toys for Joy, which is also happening this year, or the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, are welcome to come to the Keizer Gift Group as well.

“We’re really not invasive when we ask questions,” Navarro said. They ask for names to put on the presents and addresses to deliver them too – but, if a family is uncomfortable volunteering that information, then they can connect with a teacher to act as a case manager.

“What the case managers will do is put ‘Family F’, or ‘Family G’ so that they know what family it goes to,” Navarro said.

Though the group is made up of Keizerites, they are helping anyone in need whether they be from St. Paul, Salem, Brooks or other surrounding areas.

“We live in a time where there is a lot of defiance and there is a lot of hostility and we’re looking past that and focusing on Christmas. We’re focusing on giving, and taking care of our community,” Navarro said.

At the time of the interview they had around 45 families signed up, but they are hoping for more families. The Keizer Gift Group handed gifts off to the KPD on Friday, Dec. 11