As 10 representatives of schools and agencies in the Five Towns roamed the aisles of Toys “R” Us in Valley Stream on Dec. 12, they had one goal in mind: ensuring that local children have presents to open on Christmas morning.
Peninsula Kiwanis’s Christmas Dream is a year-round program that provides assistance to the Lawrence School District, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Inwood and the Five Towns Community Center, among others. The group has raised funds for the gifts for over 20 years. “When we started, there were so many kids who didn’t get anything on Christmas,” said Tom Delgiorno, a 22-year member of Kiwanis. “In our first year we gave out 50 to 100 toys, and today we’re giving out 680.”
Kiwanis hosts fundraisers throughout the year, including its annual Pancake Breakfast, which this year was held at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Oct. 6 and raised $5,800 to fund Christmas Dream. “We’re one of the few organizations that gives out every dime we receive,” Delgiorno said. “We also support local organizations and the school district throughout the year by providing necessities such as clothing, underwear and socks.”
Robin Cutler, a social worker at the Number Five School, has taken part in the shopping spree at Toys “R” Us for the past three years. This year she shopped for 25 families.
“The whole point is for us to be able to give our [school] families a wonderful Christmas,” she said. “We give the gifts to the parents so they can wrap them themselves and give them to their children, so there’s a sense of pride in giving their children these gifts. Kiwanis is always so supportive, and provides us with this opportunity to support our families.”
As Veronica Ortiz, a youth advocacy counselor for the Five Towns Community Center, filled a number of shopping carts with gifts for 70 families whose children attend the Number Two and Number Five schools, she said she felt like she was living a childhood dream. “Kiwanis is a blessing because they’re giving children something under their Christmas tree,” Ortiz said. “I know what the children’s faces will look like on Christmas morning, and I feel like Santa’s little helper.”
Felipe Plaza, a bilingual counselor at the community center, chose Barbie dolls, toy soldiers, racecars, stuffed animals and bracelet-making kits for 15 children in the center’s Aid to the Foreign Born Department. “It makes me feel good that someone will be happy on Christmas,” Plaza said. “Kiwanis is wonderful because they take the time to think about the kids in the community who otherwise wouldn’t have had anything to unwrap this year.”
Delgiorno said that although Christmas Dream takes a great deal of coordination throughout the year, the rewards are more than worth the effort. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” he said. “No matter how bad things get for us, we do what we can, and it’s heartwarming, to say the least.”