Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 04 January 2013 00:00
Leave it to Kids Helping Kids to get started on its Ninth Annual “Making a Warmth of a Difference” Winter Apparel Drive long before winter. While the official kickoff for the annual clothing drive took place on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at the palatial Oheka Castle in Huntington, the nonprofit organization had already donated 3,000 pieces of winter apparel, including brand-new coats, hats, scarves and other cold weather gear, to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in the fall. While the Superstorm may have presented an unusual situation, being ahead of the game is nothing new for this nonprofit started by Robert A.J. Eslick of Old Bethpage—when he was only 9 years old.
“You don’t have to be a grownup to make a difference,” said Bob Eslick, Robert’s father, who co-founded the organization with his son in 1997. Now, both Robert and his brother Philip are college graduates, but under Eslick’s watch, the organization continues to teach a new generation of kids the fulfillment of helping their peers.
For Eslick, encouraging philanthropy in young people is just as, if not more important than providing winter wear to people who need it, but that’s not to say that the organization hasn’t racked up some impressive figures: during the 2012 holiday season alone, Kids Way, Inc. has delivered more than $400,000 in new coats, fleece, sweaters, hats, gloves and pajamas. Since its inception in 1997, Kids Helping Kids by Kids Way, Inc. has raised over $1,500,000 in financial donations, products and services for kids in need.
One feature that distinguishes the KHK program from the numerous coat drives that take place this time of year is the fact Making A Warmth Of A Difference only accepts new items. While Eslick got the idea for the program from used coat drives (and believes those drives are also worthwhile), for his own organization, he wanted to give the best. “It is based on the concept that kids deserve new, not used,” said Eslick.
“It’s very real, and it’s very practical, and faces lit up, and it’s making a world of difference,” said Major Philip Wittenberg of the Salvation Army, one of the beneficiaries of the drive. Other organizations that receive and distribute the apparel that KHK collects include the Nassau County Department of Social Services, CASA (Coordinated Agency for Spanish Americans), Education and Assistance Corporation, and the Mary Brennan INN in Hempstead.
In addition to praising the organization and the Eslick family, many speakers at the kickoff event expressed admiration for the young volunteers who do so much of the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively, for the organization. Two new recruits, John Pickett of Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School and his brother Michael Pickett, a sixth-grader at Plainview’s Mattlin Middle School, first packed up hundreds of units of clothing so it could be distributed equally among various receiving agencies. Then, they found out that 85 pre-K children from Hempstead EOC (Economic Opportunity Commission) were coming to the kickoff event at Oheka Castle, but there wasn’t enough pre-K sized apparel to go around. Thinking creatively, the boys visited the store Five Below and found “Critter Hats,” knit hats with animal designs, and animal-shaped pillows. The boys negotiated a donation with the store, color-coordinated the hats and the pillows, then put them in holiday gift bags so each child would receive a unique gift.
“We, as kids, embrace the concept of giving back to others. Especially to our peers…it is not about what you have, but what you do with what you have,” said John Pickett, with a wisdom seemingly beyond his 15 years. The brothers received a Citation from the Town of North Hempstead for their efforts.
“At 11 and 15 years old, they are really making a difference in the lives of other children,” said Viviana Russel of the Town of North Hempstead, representing Supervisor Jon Kaiman. “You are really making a true, tangible impact on a lot of lives—and not just children, but their families as well.”
Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto also praised the young volunteers of KHK, stating that as wonderful as the communities built by Long Island’s parents and grandparents are, “You know what? All of that goes for nothing, goes right out the window, unless we also have in place a generation of young people who will know what to do when the time comes. People like those two young Pickett boys that you met a little while ago.”
“If it’s true that our future is only as bright as our young people…you have to agree with me that our future, in light of what you see here today with these children, and kids helping other kids, is looking very, very bright.”
The last speaker in the Oheka Castle Ballroom was Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who kept his remarks brief so the hundred-plus small children in attendance wouldn’t have to wait any longer for lunch. “It is just heartwarming to see the goodwill and neighborliness here, coming together to help one another,” he concluded.