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Toy Drive Helps Families in Ludlow

Cathy Pedro has seen struggling families in Ludlow a long time. As the Coordinator of the Family Resource Center and Youth Service Center since 1991, she admits they deal with people in need all year round.
“We would look for resources for these families and try to connect them with agencies that could help,” said Pedro. “But I wanted to be able to help here in Ludlow, so fifteen years ago we decided to start a toy drive to help the families put presents under the tree at Christmas. Now fifteen years later, it is still going strong and helping more families than ever. We started with maybe 20 families and this year we have 79 families total.”
Every year Pedro mails out letters to the families who qualify for free and reduced lunches that ask the families if they are in need of some help getting presents for their kids ages 18 and under. Those that want to participate mail the letter back to Pedro.
“We plan on three gifts per child,” Pedro explained. “One is usually clothes, but it just depends on what the child needs. For instance the parents might say one child needs pants, or in one case four children in the families all needed comforters for their beds.”
Some local churches help with the drive. As an example, Lakeside Presbyterian usually takes names of 40 children, and some businesses are longstanding contributors, such as Griffin
Brothers in Cold Spring who take 20 kids. The Yacht Club took the names of 15 children, and St. Boniface/St. James took 12 children. Pedro said the staff and board members assumed responsibility for the rest of the names of the children.
“Once we get the list of all the families and the children we make tags for all the children with the ages and suggestions for what they might want,” said Pedro. “If a church or a company or anyone takes a family or several children, with the tags they are able to have all the information they need to shop for the children. We don’t specify if they presents are to be wrapped or not because some people really want to wrap the presents so we let them do what they want.”
The presents are stored in the meeting room of the Board of Education, and on December 20 a team of about 13 people including Pedro move the presents to the cafeteria onto tables that are labeled with the names of the families. Parents then pick up the presents between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“I have to go through all the presents on each table to make sure everything is evened out,” explained Pedro. “You can’t have one child get more or less than a sibling. But I always think it is a Christmas miracle because it always works out. One year somehow I missed a family. It was Saturday morning and one of my tables was empty. I almost lost it. Thank heavens one of my helpers, Jodi Schmidt, the dean of students, was with me and she talked me out of my panic. I was sure I ruined Christmas for that family. Luckily it was only two children, and we ran out and got the presents and everything was fine.”
Pedro says she is still helping more families each year, and she thinks maybe the economic recovery hasn’t quite reached Ludlow yet.
“We see a lot of single parents, as well as a fair amount of grandparents who might be on a fixed income but raising their grandchildren,” said Pedro. “We had one family who had been really worrying what they were going to do—their choice was Christmas or paying the house payment. When they saw the gifts they just burst into tears, they were so grateful. Really, the stories just break my heart.”
Pedro has had people write thank you notes, and they are very touching.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity,” wrote one family. “I can honestly say Christmas will be so much happier for my children because of you. There isn’t much worse feeling like you might not be able to provide a Christmas at all! Kids just don’t understand that utilities are more important. I feel so blessed to have you all in our lives.”
“I am writing this note with my heart filled with gratitude,” wrote another. “Without people like you in the world people like my husband and I would not see such big smiles on Christmas morning from our children. So we say, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Our children will benefit a little more because of your extreme generosity.”
Pedro loves the thank you notes, but says this is definitely a team effort, and states she does not do it all herself.
“I am always amazed how generous people are,” she said. “It really makes my Christmas to see what people do out of the goodness of their hearts. As for me, I know the kids, they all go to school here, and I love the kids. So I think it is cool and the kids get to believe there is a Santa and he hasn’t forgotten them.”
Story & photo by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor