By Gina DiGiorgio, Point Park News Service:
Heather Fiedler was getting rid of her children’s old toys when suddenly she came up with a great idea for a way to give back to children in need.
Fiedler decided to start her own toy drive, called “Play it Forward,” where people can donate their gently used toys to less fortunate children. Her toy drive has helped more than 900 families in need.
“We collect and organize all the donated toys at Century III Mall, and then this year on December 12, 2015, we will open the doors to the public and allow anyone in need to come and take three toys, three books and three stuffed animals per child,” Fiedler said.
The toy drive doesn’t check for proof of income because Fielder trusts the people who show up are in need.
“We have no selection process. We work on the honor system and ask people to self-identify as in need. They just have to show up and they can select toys,” Fiedler said.
Nearly one in five American children will grow up in poverty this year. Play it Forward is just one program – along with Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, and others – that helps parents ensure that every child receives a toy on Christmas morning.
James Jankowski, 40, of Wilkinsburg, said he appreciates these services. Without the generous donations from people, his family wouldn’t have a good Christmas, he said.
“I really appreciate all that Toys for Tots does for us and other families,” Jankowski said. “Last year, my kids received all the toys they asked for, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their service.”
Leah Horcholic, coordinator of the Salvation Army’s Treasures for Children program, said their toy drive sets up “angel trees” at various locations in Allegheny County. Families that receive the free toys are checked for proof of income.
The trees are located at the U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown, First Commonwealth Bank branches in Allegheny County and South Hills Village Mall.
“We get assistance from the Allegheny Department of Human Services,” Horcholic said. “Anyone in their system qualifies, and they refer a lot of people to us.”
Sgt. Charles Brashear, a U.S. Marine and the local coordinator for the Toys for Tots Foundation, said he wants to make sure every child has a present to unwrap this holiday season, but there also are guidelines they have to follow for families to qualify.
“We serve state- and federal-aid qualified families only,” he said. “There are 95 drop-off centers this year that people can go to anywhere in Allegheny County, or they can make cash donations on our website at www.toysfortots.org.”
Pittsburgh Radio station 96.1 Kiss FM partnered with Toys for Tots to host a toy drive called “Stuff-a-Bus,” which lasted for five days at the Robinson Town Centre parking lot. People showed and donated hundreds of new toys.
“We’ve been doing this for 10 years now for needy children,” said Michael Dougherty, a 96.1 Kiss radio DJ known as “Mikey.” “This year, we’ve managed to stuff 52 buses full of toys.”