Toys for Tots drive brings in more than 1,700 gifts

The Toys for Tots donation drive delivered some 1,700 gifts for children in need.

The Toys for Tots donation drive delivered some 1,700 gifts for children in need.

For the 14th consecutive year, the Banksville Community House held its annual Toys for Tots toy drive, accepting a wide array of gifts for children in need. The drive was once again split into two locations, with gifts being received at the Cos Cob firehouse and the Banksville Community House during the day this past Saturday.

More than 1,700 toys were donated, with an additional $2,250 raised for the cause. All of the collected donations are transported to the Stamford Center, where they are distributed to local organizations including Family Centers Inc. and the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. Those organizations are able to identify their specific needs by age and gender, allowing them to better provide the children they serve with appropriate gifts.

Greenwich couple Jack Kriskey and Ronnie Staplefield formed the event in partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, which runs the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. As the Marines prepared for what would eventually become the war on terror, Mr. Kriskey and the Banksville Community House stepped in to assist with Toys for Tots collection goals in the area.

“I think we got a pickup truck full; if we had 100 toys we were lucky,” Mr. Kriskey said of the first donation drive. “People heard about that and next year it got a little bigger and a little bigger, until it is what it is today.”

Though budget cuts kept the Marines away last year, they were once again able to attend and provide a seven-ton military transport truck, an event staple that had been missing last year. In addition to the Marines, the Greenwich Police and Fire departments lent their support to the event, providing vehicles, manpower and more than a few smiling faces for local gift givers. Santa made a pair of appearances as well, being delivered to both donation locations on an antique fire engine.

After 14 years of success and fulfillment, Mr. Kriskey has expressed a desire to scale back his leadership role with the event. In his place, the Silver Shield, Greenwich’s police union, will take over. When the Marines were unable to attend last year’s event, it was the GPD and Chief James Heavey who stepped up to provide the necessary equipment and support for the donation drive. The department provided its prisoner transport van in place of the usual truck to collect donations.

A rough planning process and even rougher weather made last year’s Toys for Tots drive a difficult one, but Mr. Kriskey said that it was the community that refused to see the donation drive end. He credited First Selectman David Theis and Kerrin Coyle for refusing to let him give up, and pushing him to continue the growing Greenwich tradition.

Mr. Kriskey said that the number of new ideas coming in during this year’s planning process showed that it was time for a leadership change to bring “fresh energy” to the event.

“All of a sudden I started looking around and saying, ‘All these good people have good ideas and I’m sort of stuck on this one-way street.’ It dawned on me … there was young energy, so everything just seemed like the right time to turn it over,” Mr. Kriskey said.

He added, “I’m going to take a step back now and help them however I can and be there that day, and whatever they can have, whatever they need from me, but they’re going to take the lead.

“With the new, fresh ideas, faces and energy, I think it’s gonna get bigger and we’re going to help out many more kids,” Mr. Kriskey said. “I’m excited to see what comes next.”

Lt. Tom Keegan of the Silver Shield said that the Greenwich Police Explorer/Cadet Program Toys will “the face” of the Toys for Tots donation drive in the years to come. The program is made up of high school-aged youth who work with the police department to assist with public service projects and learn more about the efforts and responsibilities of the town’s officers.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for the Explorers to wrap their arms around a project that is their own,” Mr. Keegan said.

Mr. Keegan explained that the Explorers would be at the forefront of the donation drive in coming years, and that the Silver Shield would continue to lend them the resources necessary to make the event a success.

“Fortunately for us, we know that Jack Kriskey is only a phone call away if we need his advice,” Mr. Keegan said.”

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