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Gazette file

For years, hundreds of families were in line for toys, bikes and food at the Bob Telmosse Christmas Giveaway, which is changing this year because of the pandemic.

A popular Christmas gift drive will take a new approach to giving this year, focusing on food and gift cards rather than toys amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originating in the 1980s, the Bob Telmosse Christmas Giveaway has helped thousands families a year supply toys and bikes for their children, observing a "no-questions asked" philosophy. But the threat of the pandemic — and potential risks of standing in lines and distributing used items — prompted organizers to drop the customary toy drive.

Instead, because of the increased need for food during pandemic unemployment, closing businesses and stay-at-home schooling, there will be bags of groceries for families and holiday $10 Walmart gift cards for each child.

"The need is too great this year," said spokeswoman Carol Reinert, explaining why it was so important that the giveaway not take a year off. 

The Bob Telmosse Foundation will work with Care & Share Food Bank for the giveaway in December at one or two drive-through locations to be announced. 

Replacing the community's regular donations of bikes and toys is a $30,000 fund drive for cash and Walmart gift cards in $10 increments, Reinert said.

To donate: santa-bob.org/donate-1.html.

The giveaway dates back to a hoax in 1983 when a phony ad was run in the Gazette-Telegraph steering people to Telmosse's well-known Denver Warehouse business for free food. Although surprised when people started arriving, Telmosse made food available to all.

This became the giveaway, growing into an "everyone welcome" holiday event giving food, coats, gifts and toys to thousands of those who needed them.  

Telmosse directed the giveaway until 2003 when, because of health issues, he turned it over to the nonprofit foundation and its volunteers. 

When Telmosse died in 2006, his obituary said the giveaway "is his legacy to the city he loved so much." 

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