by Anneli Rufus
When the economic crisis forced Tot Drop Preschools to close half of its locations, the company's owner wondered what to do with all the leftover toys.
She didn't want to just throw them away. That's when Ruth Kaiser heard that the Oakland Zoo was accepting donations. Soon, the toys were enroute to the zoo's chimpanzees.
“I was completely jazzed that the Tot Drop toys were going to the primates,” said Kaiser, a teacher and author who founded Tot Drop in 1994, based on a model by which parents could schedule their preschoolers' times at the seven centers very flexibly, choosing as little as one hour a week. “Everyone I tell thinks it’s the perfect happy ending to the story of our closures.”
Zookeeper Kristin Mealiffe drove to Tot Drop's Benicia center and decided which toys would be good "presents" for the zoo’s seven chimpanzees. Among the selections were a large toy car, toy plane, miniature toy oven and stove, interactive toys, Legos, stuffed animals, and more. Toys are commonly used to keep chimpanzees engaged and stimulated in zoo environments.
According to an email just received from zoo staff, some of the toys have already been distributed to the animals, but zookeepers plan to give the rest as wrapped Christmas gifts to the chimpanzees this morning.
“We are always looking for ways to keep the animals mentally and physically active and new toys are things to enrich their lives. Many of the toys that are appropriate for toddlers are also useful for primates at the Zoo. We like toddler toys because they already have many of the safety features that we look for in primate toys,” said the Oakland Zoo's zoological manager Margaret Rousser.
Tot Drop remains open for businesses in Lafayette, Pleasanton, and Livermore.