By Michele J. Kuhn
FAIR HAVEN – Margaret Spicer is working to ensure a happy holiday season for children whose lives have been disrupted by Super Storm Sandy.
Spicer, owner of Distinctive Toys, and a group of volunteers are collecting toys and donations of money and gift cards to purchase toys to stock a space where parents can come, select gifts for their children and have them wrapped, tagged and bagged in time for Hanukkah and Christmas. They are calling the project Sandy’s Toy Shoppe.
The grassroots effort was begun by Spicer a few weeks ago. She has been soliciting donations from the specialty toy companies she deals with for her shop but is specifically looking for mass-market toys that many children want.
“The big need that we have,” she said, is for toys like “the Barbies and the Legos and Hot Wheels and things like that. We are also looking for sponsors financially so that we can go get those toys … Those companies have such huge minimum orders that I can’t even buy them wholesale because I can’t meet the minimum.”
Sandy’s Toy Shoppe is expected to be open during the weekends of Dec. 8-9 and Dec. 15-16 but Spicer won’t say where or when the event will take place to discourage those who are not eligible. Volunteers will pick up participants who do not have transportation. “It will be set up … as much like a toy store as I can do it,” Spicer said. “The parents will go through and pick and choose things for their children.” The number of toys a family will get will depend on the donations of toys and funds to buy additional toys.
Young students who volunteer will be dressed as elves during the event and high-schoolers will help wrap gifts.
Those coordinating the effort will get names of participants from churches, schools, community centers, social service agencies and other relief organizations. The agencies will reach out to those they know need some assistance, tell them about Sandy’s Toy Shoppe and invite them to participate.
“If they say yes, their name gets put on a list. If they are hesitant, because they are embarrassed, those families can feed information to their churches or their organization of what they would like and those things will be given to them,” Spicer said. “These are people who have never had to ask for anything before. We don’t want to embarrass them. We just want them to receive the toys so the children can have them.”
Individuals and families can approach those agencies and ask to be placed on the list. They may also contact Spicer at Distinctive Toys, 595 River Road, Fair Haven, or call the store at 732-747-8080, ask for her or leave a message if she is unavailable and she will return the call in short order. The store is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and most of the day on Sunday.
“If somebody knows a family and they want to get them on the list, all they have to do is call,” she said. Those whose names are not on lists provided by reputable agencies will be asked for documentation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) showing they have registered with the agency to prove they have been impacted by the storm.
Spicer has teamed up with the Knights of Columbus Council No. 3187, Life Guard Ecumenical Foundation, and RecoverRebuild of Red Bank.
The Junior League of Monmouth County will accept new unwrapped toys for Sandy’s Toy Shoppe during its Home for the Holidays shopping event from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Rumson Country Day School, 35 Bellevue Ave., Rumson.
Spicer also is getting great assistance from the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), a nonprofit specialty toy trade group.
Those who wish to donate may drop off toys, gift cards or checks at Spicer’s store or go online and donate via PayPal through Life Guard Ecumenical Foundation website at www.LGEF.net. Life Guard is a nonprofit, tax-deductible charity and all money donated to that foundation through Dec. 24 will go to fund Sandy’s Toy Shoppe.
“I’m hoping this will be a wonderful event and people will be happy,” she said.