East Siders turn up to help dole out gifts

Bill Nisbit jokes with another volunteer as they put out gifts on tables. (photos by Patrick Larkin/Review)

Bill Nisbit helps find a gift for a boy at the toy distribution event at Merrick Community Services’ Edgerton Ave. location on Monday, Dec. 16.

Toys are shown at the toy distribution event at Merrick Community Services’ Edgerton Ave. location on Monday, Dec. 16. About 3,500 kids will receive holiday gifts through the event.

Merrick provides toys to hundreds of needy kids

Hot Wheels, Play-Doh, basketballs, baseball gloves, footballs, Target gift cards -- the gifts poured in for East Siders in need.

Merrick Community Services was able to help 1,000 families have presents to give to their kids this holiday season, via a toy drive culminating in a toy distribution event.

The annual toy drive has been going strong for decades.

Things were festive Monday, Dec. 16, at the Merrick Community Services building on Edgerton Street.

Families walked through the toy “shopping” area, helped by volunteers. They had their choice of gifts for kids of all ages. Those eligible to pick up gifts for their kids strolled past table with new toys in their original packaging. 

The toys come from the Marines’ annual Toys for Tots drive. Families in need call the Salvation Army, which turns to Merrick Community Services to dole out the gifts to East Siders.

“This is just sort of the tip of what we do,” said Mary Vidas, associate director of Merrick Community Services. She noted that the organization also provides holiday help via a food shelf and a turkey giveaway, not to mention the myriad of social services the organization provides.

Vidas said the main thing that makes the event work is the help of 150 or so volunteers, many of whom are East Siders. That and the donations from East Siders.

“The East Side has been the most generous in their donations to Merrick and those in need,” Vidas said, “and we are very grateful.”


Lisa Needham, 45, now a volunteer at the event, recalled being on the other side 20 years ago.

As a young mother, she stood in line waiting for gifts to give her now grown kids.

“It was pretty rough back then,” she said. The gifts meant a lot to her.

She told herself that if the tables turned and she was in a better place financially, she’d volunteer to help out other people.

Before she volunteered this year, she told her 7-year-old son about the tough times of his older siblings.

She explained to him that they only got a few things, and it was only because of the toy donations at Merrick. Hearing about it made him cry and gave him perspective on how fortunate he is, she said.

The event was full of East Side volunteers looking to help out.

An older East Side couple, the Nisbits, have been volunteering for the toy drive for about a decade.

The two come back year after year, mostly to see the cheer on people’s faces.

Carla Hoffman, another East Sider, has been volunteering for 25 years for the toy distribution.

She keeps coming to help out every year, in part because she too used to be on the other side of things.

She was once a young, single mother struggling to get by. She remembers waiting in line to get toys for her kids, and telling herself that she’d help out if the tables were turned.

Luckily, the tables did turn, and she’s been able to help others. “Giving back is very important to me,” she said.

Filling out the tree

Stacy is an East Side mom with two young boys, ages 3 and 4, in the house.

This is her second year coming to the toy distribution, which helps ensure the boys get a few gifts.

One of her boys is a train enthusiast, while the other loves cars. She was able to find some toy cars, but no luck on the trains. Nevertheless, she said she’s just glad to have things to give them.  Her husband was recently laid off, and times are tight.

She took home a basketball, some Play-doh, toy cars, a board game and some books to put under the family Christmas tree.

“It’s great that all that stuff is donated,” she said. “We can’t really afford a lot.”

“We just take it one day at a time,” she added.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com, or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

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