April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive Hits the Quarter-Century Mark

The Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive is now in its 25th year. The Toy Drive unites the entire Bergen County Jewish community in giving to others during Chanukah. Toys and gifts are collected from over 50 Jewish institutions throughout Bergen County and beyond. Those gifts are then distributed to 17 different charities. The drive, which was started by Marla Friedman in Teaneck, has given the community an opportunity to support those in need and put a smile on a young person’s face. The obvious goal of the drive is to give charity to those in need and hopefully bring a smile to a child going through a trying time, but an equally important goal is to model for our children the importance of thinking beyond themselves and giving to others, instead of just receiving.

Every donating organization has a different way of participating in the toy drive. Some schools like RYNJ and Moriah are creating excitement by giving students a sticker that says, “I donated a toy” that the student can sign and place on a central bulletin board. The children feel great about doing the mitzvah and thinking about others. Middle school and high school students are encouraged to take more initiative in gift giving and fundraising. Some post bar/bat mitzvah-age children donate extra gifts from their parties that they would like to pass on to others and some use their maaser from their simchas to buy gifts. In the past, bake sales and sports clinics have been a great way for students to successfully raise money to buy big-ticket items like bikes and dollhouses. The Yeshivat Noam middle school is running a hot cocoa sale to raise money and then buy toys. Students at TABC are running an intramural tournament to raise money to buy sports equipment for the drive. At Ma’ayanot High School for Girls, the students have created a drive with incentives including getting teachers to dress up in unusual ways; the more gifts collected the more unusual the dress must be! “I plan on wearing footsie pajamas” said history teacher and chesed advisor Caryn Keller. The toy drive includes Jewish organizations from across the denominational spectrum. The Sunday school at Temple Sinai of Tenafly considers the toy drive the highlight of their Chanukah season.

The Toy Drive, currently run by Dalia Stelzer and Joy Sklar, is completely manned by volunteers with virtually no overhead (except for the cost of Fruit by the Foot, which is handed out to kids who come to donate at Joy’s house—Marla started this tradition of giving them something sweet to walk away with in combination with the good feeling they get from doing a mitzvah). High school students, younger children with their parents, and school and synagogue administrators and representatives are the backbone of the drive. It is these volunteers who publicize, shop, sort and pack all the toys for the charities.

Some organizations participate on both the giving and receiving ends. Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, both gives and receives. “Members of their day program come to the collection site and help remove price tags, package jewelry and sort gifts” says Sklar. Sinai students with help of their teachers sort and pack, and the Sinai group receives gifts for Chanukah from the drive.

The items collected for the various charities are distributed in a range of circumstances. Some charities use the toys for Chanukah, while others see a cycle of giving that starts during Chanukah, but lasts throughout the year. Chai4ever, an organization that helps families who have a parent who is sick, uses the gifts not only for Chanukah but also for birthday gifts throughout the year. Sharsheret uses the toys for their “busy boxes” for children to play with when at long appointments with their mother or at home with a sitter. For some it is to cheer up a child undergoing treatment through Chai Lifeline or Tomorrow’s Children at Hackensack Medical Center. Local grassroots organizations like Tomchei Shabbos of Bergen County and Project Ezra give the gifts directly to the families for Chanukah. For some, this may be the only gift received throughout the holiday. “We take special care to give these children mehudar gifts” says Stelzer.

Sklar notes that while toys are always appreciated and the crux of the drive, gifts for the older teenager are also needed. “Chai4ever and Ohel are especially appreciative of gift cards, jewelry, watches and movie tickets for that age group.”

In the spirit of Tikkun Olam, gifts are also donated to the local police toy drives of Bergenfield and Teaneck as well as the locally based domestic abuse shelter, Center for Hope and Safety (formerly SOS—Shelter Our Sisters).

This year the drive is piloting a “Mystery Maccabee” wish list on Amazon that is showing early signs of success. Any special requests will be posted on this wish list because some donors prefer to shop for a specific item on a wish list knowing that they are fulfilling a particular family‘s needs. All names are kept entirely confidential so the mitzvah is b’seter.

The drive runs officially runs through December 7 because many organizations need to pick up their toys early to have it ready for their Chanukah parties. However, toys will still be accepted until after Chanukah. For a full list of participating organizations, charities and donation locations go to bctoydrive.com. If you are a family, or know of a family, who can benefit from receiving Chanukah gifts for your children (and don’t already receive through Tomchei Shabbos or Project Ezrah), please email [email protected]—no questions asked.

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