The donations are already piling just up a couple of days after the launch of the VOCM Cares Happy Tree campaign.

The annual toy drive, in conjunction with the Salvation Army, kicked off in festive fashion at the Avalon Mall Saturday, with dozens of parents, grandparents and excited youngsters turning out for the morning launch.

The Salvation Army’s Major Jamie Locke says there’s no denying the hard times more and more people are going through.

“The need and how it is growing is alarming for us at the Salvation Army. Other social services providers are seeing it as well,” he said. “But what we know about Newfoundland and Labrador is that need, when presented, is usually matched by generosity, and so we’re thanking in advance all the people who will be donating through the Happy Tree, through Salvation Army kettles, to make Christmas extra special for people, and also to sustain our programs and services all throughout the year.”

Meanwhile, there’s also a changing of the guard this year, with the retirement of Happy, the longtime talking tree mascot, who has passed the torch to Avy, a virtual, interactive Elf who appears on a screen in front of the Happy Tree.

Avy the elf

“We’re saying goodbye to our heartfelt friend, Happy, the Avalon Mall’s previous Happy Tree. He was here for over 10 years, and he greeted over 100,000 children every year,” she said. “We’re sad to see him go but just like all of us he got tired. He needed to retire, so we thank Happy for all his years but we’re excited to get to know Avy,” said Samantha Tucker, marketing coordinator for the Avalon Mall.

While donations of unwrapped gifts and cards are being accepted at the Lululemon court location, monetary donations can also be made online.

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