Eid Toy Drive 2012As part of giving back to the community, the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY) hosted its 4th Annual Toy Drive on Friday, August 17th 2012 in a partnership with The Muslim Bar Association of New York. Our waiting room was buzzing with families and eager children, most of who were coming in a spirit to also to celebrate Eid. Around 16 volunteers and I successfully wrapped and distributed over 180 gifts to low-income families in the Bay Ridge area. As a volunteer handing out gifts, I had the joy of seeing the happiness of many little boys and girls when they received their presents, and the thankfulness of their mothers and fathers. Some of the toys we gave out were board games, princess wands, action figures, coloring books, and teddy bears. As the toy drive was going on, we had some volunteers wrapping up last minute gifts from last year’s pile since we gave away every single toy that we wrapped. It was fun to see the ‘behind the scenes’ process. ‘Hurry, hand me the tape!’ came a shout. ‘We are the worst wrappers ever’, one girl joked as more eager children rolled through the doors.
Every time another family would enter the office, all the volunteers would get excited. There was a greeter at the door, who would lead the family to the back hallway, where our table pilled with toys was set up. When the child would appear, all the volunteers would say ‘Hi!’ and we’d ask the child what their name was. The loud kids would shout their names beamingly, but the shy ones would just grin and look at us. ‘Come on,’ we’d urge them with a smile.
I remember there were two young boys that came in with their mother. We welcomed them and handed them their gifts. One of the brothers opened his gift. Then came the shouts, ‘Spiderman! Spiderman! Woo-hoo!’ All of the volunteers smiled, but we overlooked his younger brother who was about to cry. ‘What’s wrong?’ we asked. He shook his head and pointed at his brother’s gift. ‘You still haven’t opened your gift!’ someone noticed. ‘Yeah!’, we all agreed, urging him to open his present. The boy looked up and decided to open it, and out came 4 dinosaurs. All the volunteers started saying, ‘Woah! I wish I had 4 dinosaurs!’ The little boy beamed, and we knew we had done a good job.
As the day went on, we noticed the pile of toys on the table continuing to recede. At one point, there were no more presents to hand out. And as I learned, turning people away is the hardest thing to do. Telling them, “no, we don’t have any more,” is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever done. Then, as the denied families started to walk away, there came a cry, ‘Wait! We might have more!’ One volunteer ventured into the basement, and everyone in the lobby was crossing their fingers. Suddenly, a large box came into view, and carrying it was the volunteer with a victorious smile. ‘Yalla, wrap these!’ she said.
I’ve learned that a major part of community organizing is understanding our community and its needs. I believe it’s necessary to give back to your community. And this toy drive was a perfect way to bring out all the different types of people from the neighborhood to learn about each other’s differences and make people feel welcome. Encouraging people to forget their dividing differences and come together as one big community is essential if you want to be recognized by society. As a part of AAANY’s Youth Community Organizing Interns, I have learned that the first step to change is being united. A broken community is a weak one, and as simple as it may seem, a toy drive in Southern Brooklyn helped many as a whole come together as one for a common interest to spread joy.
Check out some of our pictures here.
Fatima Irfan, 13 Community Organizing Intern