Youth Center is Santa's headquarters for toy drive distribution

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Thu., Dec. 19, 2013
Youth Center supervisor Elizabeth Bentley and volunteer Matthew Stevens sort through the donations, matching toys to requests. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Youth Center supervisor Elizabeth Bentley and volunteer Matthew Stevens sort through the donations, matching toys to requests. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Santa’s elves may not have been wearing red hats or pointy shoes, but they were busy enough Dec. 18 sorting through the mountains of toys that cascaded over the folding tables at the Griswold Youth Center. The “elves” conferred back and forth: “How about for a boy? Legos?”

“Yeah, Legos would be good. Everybody likes Legos.” “Does he like cars? There’s plenty of car stuff.”

Volunteers Matthew Stevens and Hannah Rhoades were working with Youth Center supervisor Elizabeth Bentley to sort out donated toys for the Holiday Helper program. Stevens, who been helping with this project every year for the past three years, explained that participants were given anonymous information on a family for whom to “play Santa” – ages, genders and sizes of the children. “We supplement what they give us and bulk up the bag a little more,” he said. “We try to gauge what the kids would like. If it’s a big family, we’ll give them a board game.”

About 50 families received a bag from their “secret Santas” this Christmas, said Youth Center coordinator Ricky Bevis. The program received donations from toy drives held by the Jewett City Fire Department and by Griswold’s resident state troopers, she said. “Thank God for the resident troopers and the fire department,” she said. “They’ve been phenomenal. By the time you count all the pieces, we have probably 500 toys here.”

In addition, teachers at Griswold elementary and middle schools collected toys for the program, she said. “We have [individual] people in the community who donate, too,” said Bentley. “We have one lady – she must collect toys all year.” Bentley said she’s not sure of the lady’s name, or whether she would even want others to know her name.

Bentley, who also works at Griswold Middle School, said that families apply for the program through the elementary and middle schools. The schools’ social workers and counselors also recommend the program to families whom they know to be struggling financially, she said.

Bevis said that the program has brightened the holidays for local families in need for the past seven years.


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