It is hard to measure the value of a single gift to a young child.
But for many lower-income families living in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park, that question does not even arise. After paying for rent and food, there often are not enough dollars left over to spend on toys or gifts for their children. For parents barely getting by, holidays, which for many are a joyous time, can be a time of stress, anxiety and unhappiness.
For nearly two decades, a committed group of Leasiders have worked to fill this void by running the Leaside Toy Drive in support of kids in need in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park. What started in 2003 as a Guys Night Out fundraiser, with about 20 supporters, has grown exponentially into one of the city’s most meaningful, long-term toy drives.
Over its 18 years in existence, the toy drive has annually provided more than 4,000 toys – a toy for every child in the four primary schools in the area. The toys and gifts are provided in consultation with the local schools to ensure they are age, gender, and culturally appropriate.
As Principal George Patsopoulos says: “Our community loves the Leaside Toy Drive. It has been a great tradition here at Gateway Public School. The Leaside Community Toy Drive is a wonderful, generous contribution that truly exemplifies the definition of the season of giving.”
To date, over $250,000 has been raised and more than 30,000 toys have been distributed.
One of the founding members, Daryn Everett, said, the early days were about giving a group of local men the opportunity to get together, have a few drinks, meet other local men, and raise a little money for a toy drive. Fast forward 18 years and the organizing committee of Leasiders – Jeff Hohner, Michael Zivot, Edward Wong, David Skelly, Daryn Everett and Lisa Lefebvre – have put in countless hours to raise the over $35,000 needed annually to run the toy drive.
This entrepreneurial group, along with Leaside Life columnist and local hero Susan Scandiffio, also lent their expertise in the recent launch of the Thorncliffe Park Food Bank. With the generous help of corporate, local business and individual donations, the Toy Drive was able to secure over $275,000 in goods and monies for the TNO Food Collaborative.
For 2021, the Toy Drive will once again host a Virtual Comedy night, on December 2nd. A donation of $50 (more, if you like) will get you a ticket to the online event. It’s a night of adult humour, teaming up with the Nowhere Comedy Club, along with a free draw and items to be auctioned. Leaside’s own celebrity comedy merrymakers, Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath, will be making a special appearance. Colin Mochrie is an award-winning actor and improviser, best known for his long-standing role on the hit television series Whose Line is it Anyway? Multi-talented actor and comedian Debra McGrath, a Second City alumna, is also known for her numerous film and television roles, including a long-time role on Little Mosque on the Prairie.
In further support of the Toy Drive efforts, Leaside Life has partnered with the Leaside Toy Drive to give people an additional opportunity to support the cause. A new platform called Toy Drive Local will allow consumers to come together with local merchants, and through their everyday transactions, lend extra financial support directly to the Toy Drive. This initiative launches on December 2nd in conjunction with the Virtual Comedy Night and will both support local merchants and add additional donations for the Toy Drive.