The story behind the nonprofit that keeps collecting thousands of toys for holiday gifting

How do you motivate a group of passionate, hardworking volunteers from Edith L. Ward Catholic School to go even harder when it comes to collecting a coveted item? For them, it’s simply the force…

The story behind the nonprofit that keeps collecting thousands of toys for holiday gifting

How do you motivate a group of passionate, hardworking volunteers from Edith L. Ward Catholic School to go even harder when it comes to collecting a coveted item? For them, it’s simply the force of a compelling narrative. It’s all about story.

“I can feel the emotion in all of us,” said Pastor John Patti. “We’re here for the children.”

Six years ago, a then-teenage female student joined the Santa Claus Fund, which collects gently used toys, as an administrator’s helper. There, through the process of endless donations, over time she became involved and started a new tradition. Now, in her spare time she’s one of the Santa Claus Fund’s executive officers.

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At that same point, a few sophomore boys joined the Santa Claus Fund — part of a younger generation learning life’s lessons. Two of them were soccer players at another school, but when they heard about the fundraiser they knew they wanted to help too. One went on to be a Santa Claus Fund peer supporter and host events where they present presents to children in need. The other, Jacob Baranyi, began as the Santa Claus Fund’s coordinator and has continued to help organize different events to raise money.

“Because there are these kids here at church who have nothing and at the same time they need help,” Patti said. “You gotta help them, it’s their Christmas.”

It was that factor that inspired the nonprofit’s executive director, mother of three and founder of My Heart: Rain Day Mission Church in Levittown, to get involved too.

At Christmastime, the Edith L. Ward Catholic School needs all the help it can get, between the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Toy Drive, volunteers and contributions, whether large or small. The Santa Claus Fund has been especially helpful in that regard over the years, from getting the toys it needs to curating a nearly entirely new display every year.

Also, Patti remembers the story of one student who asked Santa for another new toy. It turned out that the 18-year-old had been injured, but his parents were worried he wasn’t making enough progress.

“It all came full circle,” Patti said.

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The stories are a reason for volunteers to keep pitching in year after year. Along with the school’s PTA, the group has seen the generosity of others throughout its existence. For example, last year, the organization collected nearly 12,000 toys through its own efforts, the White Christmas Fund.

That same weekend, Long Island Toys for Tots was closed down because of bad weather. The organization’s headquarters in Oceanside, which oversees the distributions throughout Long Island, declined a container of new toys. But the local end of the Santa Claus Fund, where donations are recorded and deliveried to people in need, was able to take on the responsibility of arranging for the new toys, the Toys for Tots location and most of the costs related to returning the toys for distribution.

“So they were able to make sure there was a Toys for Tots location within a 45-minute drive from this school,” Patti said.

Volunteers from Edith L. Ward Catholic School love making these connections, and in return for giving, Santa Claus Fund representatives are grateful.

“They consider us to be like an adopted family,” he said. “They believe in us so much that they look after us no matter what we do. I hope the community hears that. We are here for them.”

To help the Santa Claus Fund complete their plans for the holidays, a $5,000 gift target is in place — which supports volunteers.

It’s a story that has all the elements needed to take to the next level.

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