Darien nonprofit gives toys to families in need during holidays
They’re furry, brown, very cute, and have “I’m Beary Cuddly” written in red letters on their sweaters.
They’re stuffed teddy bears and every shopper who came to the 26th annual Person-to-Person’s holiday toy store last weekend received one.
The “store” was located at the Anderson Youth and Community Center on the Post Road in Darien. It’s right next door to P2P, a nonprofit organization that provides individuals and families with assistance for basic needs to overcome daily challenges and access to resources to improve their lives.
From Thursday through Saturday, the store gave away several thousand brand new toys to families in need. Free gift wrapping was also provided to each family.
Volunteers work year-round to prepare for the annual toy store, which was set up last Wednesday. They shop for toys all year. P2P also receives many donations of toys.
Elected officials who came to setup day included Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, Stamford Mayor David Martin, State Rep. Lucy Dathan, State Sen. Carlo Leone, and state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff.
Lisa Koorbusch, toy store committee chair, said the theme behind the toy store is making “a better Christmas for children from birth through 15 in the Norwalk and Stamford area.”
To be eligible to shop at the toy store, clients must have visited P2P’s donation center at least six times within a 12-month period.
Once qualified families make an appointment with P2P, they check in to the shop, and are met by a volunteer elf (shopper) who helps them choose an age appropriate new, unopened toy for each of their children.
They also got to choose a book and board game for their family.
This year, for the first time ever, Bloomingdale’s had a surplus of teddy bears, and donated 4,000 of them to P2P.
P2P donated over 1,500 extra bears to eleven other area charities and organizations.
Everything was gift wrapped by a volunteer as well.
According to Koorbusch, this year there was the most toys the store has ever had.
“Every year, it gets a little bit bigger and bigger,” she said. “It requires hundreds of volunteers to pull it off. It’s an amazing thing to see it come together but it’s also an amazing thing to see when the clients come in. It’s one of the most popular volunteer opportunities in town because it’s so hands-on. You get hugs and you get tears.”
P2P heavily relies upon donations for the toy store.
“We have a small budget but we tend to use what we have in our budget for the older kids — from ages 12 to 15 — because they tend to like more expensive items, she said, or items that people aren’t necessarily going to donate,” Koorbusch said.
P2P shoppers go to TJ Maxx, searching for bargains.
“That’s a fun part of the job — if you get to do some shopping,” she said, adding the shoppers also shop for the younger age groups as well.
This year, P2P received an “incredible” amount of donations through an Amazon wish list, Koorbusch said.
In addition, there was a donor in town who is moving and had an entire locker at Hollow Tree Ridge Storage of toys, that she donated to P2P.
This year’s toy store was dedicated to a former Darien resident, Lara Kavanagh, a Stamford woman who died last year from a rare cancer.
“She brought me into the toy store, in turn brought a bunch of the ladies who were here into the toy store,” Koorbusch said. “She populated the toy store with all of her friends who were passionate about it. She was a amazing and even continued to come and help us when we knew she wasn’t feeling well and was going through treatment.”
Kavanagh’s 16-year-old daughter Caroline now volunteers with the junior toy store committee, which was new this year.
State Sen. Carlo Leone said, “We just can’t say enough as elected officials that Person-to-Person has been such a leader in providing community support. We are always sending people here for assistance and they always rise to the occasion. So, the fact that they can be here to offer a little bit of assistance just speaks volumes, so we wish them nothing but the best.”
Sen. Duff said P2P “is one of our best nonprofits in the area. Whether it’s coat drives or holiday givaways, it is really an important organization.
Duff added P2P “is so well managed and they do such great work.”
Norwalk resident Katie Carr, who volunteers on the P2P holiday toy store committee, said while most people get very excited about giving gifts to children, “for me, what I really love to see with the toy store is the parents’ faces. When you are a family struggling to make ends meet to get food on the table, you’re not given a lot of choice of what you can have,” she said. “When you come to the toy store, there is a variety of everything for every kind of kid.”
Toy store volunteer Nicole Intile of Norwalk was in charge of organizing all the books.
She said she always likes to help her community around Christmas time.
“To be able to give some time or buy a teddy bear or do something, it’s a great feeling,” she said.
Cathy De Graaff of Darien, another volunteer, said last year she helped with shopping for the families, “which was a phenomenal experience.”
“I helped about 20-plus families during my two-hour shift,” she said.
This year, she was planning to help at the wrapping station and with setup.
“These are families that are already struggling, so it’s really nice to take that task off their list and make shopping easier,” she said, adding she plans to volunteer at the toy store every year.
De Graaff said that when one gives, “they receive a lot more than when you get something yourself.”
“We come from a very fortunate community but there are also people in our community that are struggling daily that we may not even realize,” De Graaf said. “It’s really important to help people and this is a great way to do it. It’s a great way to start off the holiday season.”