Toy drive makes holiday brighter for city's youngsters

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Dec. 6, 2011
(L-r) NYAC members Shannon Fowler, Raagan Wicken and Aracely Reyes encouraged shoppers at the Lisbon Wal-Mart to buy an extra toy for needy kids in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
(L-r) NYAC members Shannon Fowler, Raagan Wicken and Aracely Reyes encouraged shoppers at the Lisbon Wal-Mart to buy an extra toy for needy kids in Norwich. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

The Norwich teenagers who were wearing Santa hats as they stood outside the Lisbon Landing Wal-Mart Dec. 4 came by those hats honestly. The young people, all members of the Norwich Youth Action Council, were “playing Santa” in the literal sense, collecting toys for disadvantaged children in Norwich.

“Donate a toy!” “Make someone’s Christmas special!” “It doesn’t take much to make a toddler happy!” they called out to shoppers at the entrances to the store.

“The kids decided they wanted to do a toy drive,” said Norwich Youth and Family Services Coordinator Kay Eyberse. And while the pile of toys grew steadily throughout the day, many shoppers opted to contribute in another way.

“People are actually giving more money than toys,” said Eyberse. “So we’re sending the kids in to shop with the money people are giving them. We just bought $70 worth of toys, and we have more money in the hat.”

A group of teens clustered around Eyberse, holding a bulging Santa cap. “Okay, you’ve got $105,” she told the group. “Go buy as many toys as you can.”

That was clearly the fun part for many of the young volunteers. Squeals of delight came from the Barbie aisle, where a group of girls considered what to buy. “I used to love this when I was little,” said one of the volunteers.

Toys collected and purchased through the day’s efforts will go to Norwich Human Services’ Adopt a Family program, said NYAC advisor Jody Vara. “We have about 100 families, and there’s a waiting list for more,” she said. The economic downturn continues to hit many Norwich residents close to home, and many families are having trouble meeting monthly bills, let alone managing to provide a real Christmas for their children.

The toy drive netted 120 full-size toys and 362 stocking stuffers, including what the NYAC volunteers purchased, said Angelo Callis, a family therapist for the city’s Youth and Family Services. At the end of the event they still had $55 and a store gift card as well, he said.


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