Some local students learned about the true spirit of Christmas - and helped spread it - when they recently organized a toy drive for needy children.
Spreading Joy...Shown with the toys collected by Girl Scout Junior Troop 3346 at La Salle Regional School are, from left to right: (front row) Troop members Samantha Koppen, Nicole Bruno, Emilie Smith, Ellyn Domanico, Lauren Falkowski; (second row) Rita Blanchard, Lia Costanzo, Kristin Behr, Gloriann Connelly, Sheila Porter, Michelle Garner; (back row) Major Chuck Kilbride, US Marine Corps, Long Island coordinator of the Toys for Tots Drive, Cindi Garner, troop leader, Staff Sergeant Roger Fortune, US Marine Corps., Susan Anaischik, principal of La Salle Regional School, and Timothy Gang, Toys for Tots volunteer.
Members of Girl Scout Junior Troop 3346 spearheaded a collection at their school, La Salle Regional in Farmingdale, which reaped more than 150 toys for the US Marine Corps annual Toys for Tots campaign.
"It makes me very proud, because part of our education and our training is to be aware of the needs of others," Susan Anaischik, La Salle's principal, said after witnessing the students hand over the toys to the Marine Corps Monday. "Our school and our children have been blessed in many ways. And as a school community, it gives us great pleasure to reciprocate all that we have been given."
Much preparation was needed for the project, and the girls got to work early - starting in October, according to Cindi Garner, the troop's leader. They sent out fliers, hung posters, and approached fellow students for donations. They also created a log to keep track of contributions, and solicited sponsors for raffle prizes to reward participants.
"It was a lot of effort by all the students. The girls really enjoyed doing it," said Garner. "I think the girls benefit by getting out and giving to people."
All contributions came from students at the school, who brought in unwrapped toys until Friday, Dec. 17. In addition to putting a smile on the face of a needy child, each student who donated a gift benefited by receiving a free game of bowling from Farmingdale Lanes, and a prize from McDonald's. Each participant was also entered into a raffle drawing, which offered as prizes movie tickets from UA Theater and gift certificates from local merchants JP's Long Island Grill, Annabella's Restaurant, Blimpie, Captain Andy's Seafood Restaurant, Creative Baskets, and Jade Palace.
According to Anaischik, students' enthusiasm for the toy collection was impressive, especially considering that the school has operated several other drives concurrently during this holiday season, such as for books and food. She noted that donating the gifts seemed to have special meaning for the elementary students, because of the wonder they naturally feel for toys. "Because toys are so important to them, they can identify, and it holds a great deal of interest," she said, adding, "For the children, it's a very positive feeling, because they have the ability to change and brighten someone's holiday and life," she said.
Major Chuck Kilbride, Long Island coordinator of the Toys for Tots Drive, noted that the program annually collects 12 million toys nationwide and 1 million from New York. As of early this week, distribution of the gifts to needy children had already begun. For example, Kilbride had already delivered 10,000 toys to Cardinal John O'Connor for dissemination, as well as 10,000 toys to Catholic Charities, and 20,000 to Education and Assistance Corporation, the non-profit social services agency.
In addition to the collections headed up by girl scout groups such as Junior Troop 3346, thousands of drives are organized by businesses, as well as local community organizations, such as Kiwanis, fire departments, post offices, and merchant groups. For example, all 52 of Nassau County's chambers of commerce participate, as do 110 fire departments in Nassau.
Kilbride added that those programs conducted by youngsters such as the La Salle girl scouts teach them a valuable lesson. "It trains the kids to care and share for others, and to participate, and give back to the community," he said.
He also feels that the youth-driven collections foster the recruitment of future adult toys for tot organizers, because many of the students grow up to conduct collections at their places of business. Fifteen hundred businesses throughout New York sponsor toys for tots drives, Kilbride noted. "These little programs blossom into bigger programs," he said.