‘Sinterklaas is also fun with used toys’

A customer (left) and employee Maaike Vriesema at a toy swap fair in Almere.Image Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

Kaylee Sanders (27) smiles and watches as two volunteers at a table in the De Bazuin community center in Almere pack an as yet unwritten book of friends. “My son is going to be so happy with this,” she says. “He’s been asking for a book like this for two years.”

The single mother, who gave birth to her third child five months ago, has just visited the back room of the community centre, which has been temporarily renamed the ‘Sinterklaas warehouse’. It looks exactly as you imagine it: shelves and tables loaded with family games, Barbie dolls, cars and puzzles.

Although it is not always obvious, these are second-hand toys. Last week people could deliver their out-of-favor items, this week other toys can be picked up for that. A swap fair, in other words, of which dozens will be organized this year in the run-up to the evening of gifts (December 5), spread across the country.

Rubber duck

The urgency is great: with the skyrocketing prices, families have less money left over for gifts. But that is not the only reason that three Sinterklaas warehouses have been set up in Almere this year, says Maaike Vriesema of welfare organization De Schoor, who is behind the initiative. ‘Sustainability also plays a role. We hope that people will deal with things more consciously by consuming less and recycling.’

Then she suddenly turns towards the door, where under musical accompaniment Softly go the horse’s feet an elderly woman walks in looking for presents for her three grandchildren. She won’t make it this year with her benefits. ‘How old are they and what do they like?’ asks Vriesema. The choice eventually falls on a makeup box and a set of bracelets.

It is sometimes quite confrontational, says Vriesema when the woman has left for the packing room. ‘You see people arriving with boxes full of toys that get in the way. Others have almost nothing. They then take something small with them, such as a rubber duck. It illustrates the dichotomy in society.’

Less budget

Research by ABN Amro and Q&A Insights & Consultancy recently showed that 40 percent of the Dutch have (much) less to spend during the holidays this year. Cuts are mainly made on clothing, shoes, toys, games and other gift items. This is not only due to the increased prices, but also to low consumer confidence. ‘People keep their purse strings because of financial uncertainty, want to save and look for offers,’ says Henk Hofstede, researcher at ABN Amro. ‘Retailers respond to this by offering gifts at a friendly price.’ Of the 1,226 respondents, 14 percent did not buy any gifts at all this year.

That’s a pity, especially with a party like Sinterklaas, says Chantal van Doorn, initiator of Stichting Sinterklaas Kapoentje. This year, with the help of donations, he will give about two hundred children from less fortunate families in the Amersfoort area a jute bag with gifts and goodies. ‘When you have little to spend as a family, you can still explain to the children: we don’t have that much money, so we’re celebrating your birthday small this year. But that is not possible at a party like Sinterklaas. All children get presents, so if they don’t get them, they start to wonder: haven’t I been nice?’

Van Doorn sees many new children’s names on the list this year, remarkably often also from middle-class families. ‘The parents say: last year we made it, but this year we drown.’


In the De Bazuin community center in Almere, Soraya (47), who does not want to use her real name in the newspaper for privacy reasons, sheds a tear when asked about the reason for her visit to the Sinterklaas warehouse. She is struggling financially, she says, and can’t always give her three children what they ask for. ‘My middle daughter, who is 11, sometimes can’t go to McDonalds or the swimming pool with her friends because it’s too expensive. We often skip birthdays.’

Still, she is optimistic. Soraya grew up in poverty herself. Her mother was alone with ten children. “She has always showered us with love and attention. I try to give that to my children too.’

Elske Bakker, who also works for welfare organization De Schoor, sees around her that poverty – apart from the shame that sometimes accompanies it – enables people to think in creative solutions and make conscious choices, of which the exchange exchange is an example. is. ‘And Sinterklaas is just as much fun with used toys,’ she says. ‘Ultimately it’s about the attention you have for each other.’

Single mom Kaylee Sanders can only confirm that. ‘It doesn’t matter how big a gift is, it’s about the principle. Recently I bought a box of pencils for my son in a thrift store for 20 cents. He said ‘thank you mom’ a dozen times and asked why I had bought it, because it wasn’t his birthday at all, was it? My children can be very happy with something very small.’