VERONA, NJ - 700. That’s the number of toys that Verona High School students hope to collect this year for the elementary school students of Hawkins Street School in Newark. A lofty goal, for sure, but one that the students feel confident they can accomplish with the community’s help.

The toy drive, one of VHS’s largest charitable events, has been running for 23 years. “A former Special Education teacher at VHS, Elaine DeVita, thought it would be a wonderful way for her students to learn what it means to be charitable and compassionate,” said teacher Linda Barone, who currently co-chairs the drive with fellow educator Jon Thai. “She paired up with a former guidance counselor at Hawkins Street School in Newark, Paula Savino, to initiate the toy drive, which was a success from the beginning.” 

As years have passed, the VHS student council began running the drive. They, along with other student volunteers, contribute by advertising through social media, assisting with counting and organizing the toys according to age and gender, loading them onto the school bus for delivery and distributing the gifts dressed as Santa and his elves.

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“Not only do the students of the elementary schools benefit from this experience, but our high school students are greatly affected. In most cases, it opens up their eyes to what real poverty is, that they often hear about, but have never really seen first hand,” said Barone. “When they witness the excitement of a second-grader tearing off the wrapping of a $10 toy truck and exclaiming ‘this is the best gift I ever got,’ it really humbles them. Having the newest iPhone on their Christmas list becomes something that they no longer feel is as important. It's enlightening and exciting for all students involved and provides them with an education that no curriculum could teach.”

Last year, through the generosity of the Verona students and parents, the school collected over 650 toys for children from preschool age to grade four at Hawkins street school. Additional gifts were sent to Salome Urena Elementary School located on 1st Avenue, also in Newark. “We have now added Salome Urena Elementary School to our list of schools, where for many students, the toy they receive may be the only Christmas gift they receive. On a few occasions, when ‘Santa’ and his elves distributed the wrapped gifts to the students, and they were given permission to open it, they refused, stating that they didn't want to open it until Christmas day so they would have something to open that morning,” said Barone.

If the public wishes to donate new, wrapped and labeled toys (Please label wrapped toys with  toy/gender/age information) to help VHS students achieve their goal, they can drop them off at Verona High School between now and December 17 from 8am-4pm, Monday through Friday. Email jthai@veronaschools.org or lbarone@veronaschools.org for more information.

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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