Toy drive to feature new attractions Saturday

The annual Toys for Tots collection will take place this Saturday in Cos Cob and Banksville. — John Ferris Robben photo

The annual Toys for Tots collection will take place this Saturday in Cos Cob and Banksville.
— John Ferris Robben photo

The town’s 13th annual Toys for Tots toy drive was on the verge of cancellation this year, but in true Greenwich fashion, the community stepped up to make the Dec. 14 event possible.

The drive will take place at the Cos Cob firehouse from 10 to noon, with an appearance from Santa at 11. Then, from 11 to 1, the drive will be held at the Banksville Community House, where Santa will visit at noon.

Established by Greenwich resident Jack Kriskey and his wife, Ronnie Staplefield, the toy drive began in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Kriskey said in an interview with the Post. At the time, the community had been donating to so many local 9/11 support groups that by Christmas, they had nothing left to give, he said. Toys for Tots collection goals were coming up short, prompting Mr. Kriskey and his wife to step in by creating an event that has become a popular town tradition.

For most of the past 12 years, the Toys for Tots drive has drawn crowds with the arrival of a seven-ton military vehicle, courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps. The vehicle not only transported toy donations to Stamford Center, where the toys are distributed to various organizations, but was available for viewing at the event, and room was often made inside for a few young volunteers to help load up the toys. This year, however, the popular truck will not make an appearance.

“This year was a little difficult for a lot of reasons,” Mr. Kriskey said.

According to Mr. Kriskey, military budget cuts affected the Marines’ ability to attend this year’s toy drive, along with their vehicle, which left a hole in the event. The truck had been a major attraction for attendees in years past, and Mr. Kriskey said he feared the toy drive would fail to draw a crowd without it. After seeking help from a few local organizations without the response he was looking for, Mr. Kriskey realized he might be out of luck this year.

“I sort of threw up my hands and said, ‘Well, maybe this is the way it ends,’” he said. “That’s when the community responded, so that was really gratifying. It means this thing is really important to the community.”

The first person to step up, “unsolicited,” was Greenwich police Chief James Heavey, Mr. Kriskey said. The chief offered the Police Department’s prisoner transport van, which will serve as both a means of transporting donations as well as drawing in attendees. As an added bonus, GPD’s 9/11 memorial motorcycle will be on display during the toy drive for all to view, Mr. Kriskey said.

Additionally, the Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Department will display an antique fire engine at the event, and several retired marines have volunteered to attend the drive dressed in their full uniforms.

Ultimately, “people stepped up and we found alternate draws” for the toy drive, Mr. Kriskey said. In fact, he added, perhaps the military vehicle would have gotten “stale,” so this change might be a blessing in disguise.

The alteration in the toy drive’s format has gotten more residents and organizations involved in the event, which means word will spread farther and attract even more participants, Mr. Kriskey said. Ultimately, he said, the outlook for this year’s toy drive started out bleak but it will have a happy ending.

“I’m looking forward to a good year,” Mr. Kriskey said.

Members of the community who are planning to participate in Saturday’s event are asked to bring new, unwrapped toys for children ranging in age from toddlers to 15-year-olds. Although the need for toys for a specific gender or age range has varied from year to year, the community has donated a good mix of items in recent years, and toys are not needed in one group more than another this year, Mr. Kriskey said.

The most important aspect of the toy drive, Mr. Kriskey said, is that the donations benefit children within the community. The toys are organized in Stamford, then distributed back to a number of town organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich and Family Centers, all of which put in requests for toys for their respective organizations specified by age and gender, he said.

For those who will not be able to attend the toy drive, donations will still be accepted through the last weekend before Christmas, Mr. Kriskey said. In addition, monetary donations in the form of checks are greatly appreciated and may be made payable to Toys for Tots. Checks are particularly helpful because they allow those in charge of distribution to figure out what’s needed at the end of the toy drive and to fill in those gaps using the donated funds, he said.

“You’ll see children learning to give,” Mr. Kriskey said, adding that in past years, some children have even offered their birthday gifts as donations. Accordingly, he said, whether a person is giving or receiving, everyone benefits from the event.

With approximately 1,500 to 2,000 items collected at the Toys for Tots drive each year, canceling the event would have had a serious impact on the less fortunate children in town, Mr. Kriskey said, but “the community wouldn’t let that happen.” Instead, the town rallied around the event and kept the Christmas spirit alive by showing how much it cared, which was “very rewarding,” he said.

For more information or to have a toy picked up, call Jack Kriskey at 203-661-6021.

 

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