I contacted a few organizations that we heard needed help, including an emergency operations center of a county affected by Hurricane Sandy. Surprisingly, we never got a response from anyone. Cindy, then, had an idea to load a Valrico truck with Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, and food and go out to affected neighborhoods to give to those who had lost so much. But we didn’t know where to start or who to help.
Then I had an idea…
I called Tad Agoglia, owner of First Response Team of America, a non-profit organization that provides disaster relief aid to communities affected by disasters. Tad was stationed in a little New York town called Hunnington Station, clearing roads and debris that Sandy left in her path. I asked Mr. Agoglia if he knew of any organizations that needed help for Christmas, and he told he would make some phone calls and get back to me.
A couple of hours later Tad called me back. He then asked the Chief of the Fire Station that was housing his crew if he knew of anyone that needed help. Chief Mike Pastore told him he would think about it and call him back. Not even 10 minutes later Chief Pastore received a call from Dix Hills Fire Department Commissioner Mike Plumitallo, asking if he could possibly donate or help gather donations for their daughter’s Toy Drive.
Chief Pastore was amazed by this request for help, received only moments after help had been offered.
The Sunshine Toy Drive was launched in 2006 when Mike’s daughter, Victoria “Sunshine” Plumatillo asked her parents how she could help get toys to needy kids during the holidays. At first they didn’t take her seriously but she was persistent. Mike started gathering resources throughout the community and the Sunshine Toy Drive was born.
The Sunshine Toy Drive is unlike any other. Prior to the day of the event they gather the names of local families from government and other non-profit organizations. Every family is screened to determine if they are in need of Christmas gifts for their children.
The toy drive is held at the Dix Hills Fire Department the week before Christmas, every year. The toy drive is set up in a Santa’s workshop style motif and parents are assigned a “personal shopper” to assist them in picking out toys for their children. Once they are done shopping they can then bring the toys to the wrapping stations to have them wrapped. The parents can bring the toys home that day or pick them up on Christmas Eve.
After hearing the story of the Sunshine Toy Drive, I knew this would be a perfect match for us. I told Cindy about it and she agreed that this was the organization that we would help.
I stayed on the phone constantly with Hope Plumatillo, the commissioner’s wife, trying to formulate a plan on how we would purchase and transport the toys to the Fire House for the toy drive. We had a Valrico 18 wheeler at our disposal but were not sure if it would easily be able to get around the island. At one point she said that her husband could pick up the toys in his pickup truck when we were done shopping. I was pretty sure a pick up truck would not be able to haul $20,000 worth of toys.
“Hope, did I ever tell you how much we are donating?”
“Hope, we are donating $10,000 to your toy drive.”
She was silent for a few moments and then squealed.
She was even more delighted and even rendered speechless when a few days later I gave her the news that our partner, S&D Transfer, had matched our donation.
A week later I hopped on a plane to Long Island for a toy shopping spree like no other. I arrived in New York at around noon. Hope and Brittany Perkins, our operations manager that had been stationed in New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy, picked me up from the airport. We then headed to a diner to discuss our game plan.
After lunch we set out on our first adventure at a Toys R Us in Long Island. We picked up about twelve baskets of toys, and had a blast doing it! This Toys R Us opened up two registers just for us and we were delighted. We also purchased 500 Teddy Bears from a factory in Brooklyn, New York.
Vyki Alleman and Brittany Perkins shopping for the Sunshine Toy Drive
The next day we traveled to New Jersey to purchase more toys.
Vyki Alleman waiting for a dedicated cashier at a Wal-Mart in New Jersey
Then, we were off to another Toys R’ Us for our final shopping trip.
Our many shopping carts filled with toys
Check out the look on the cashiers’ faces when we maxed out the cash register!
After a long day of shopping, we were very excited to find that we had spent almost all of the money that we had donated.
The next morning Hope picked me up from the hotel and we were off to set up for the toy drive.
Toys waiting to be sorted
Victoria Plumatillo and Vyki Alleman
Cindy joined us the next morning along with S&D Transfer partners Ed McLaughlin and David Taribek. At 8:30 A.M. Councilwoman Susan A. Berland presented Cindy Perez and Eddie McLaughlin with an official proclamation from the Town of Hunnington.
Left to right: Susan A. Berland, Dave Teribek, Eddie McLaughlin, Cindy Perez, Matt Roemer, Vyki Alleman, Tad Agoglia, and Mike Pastore.
We even got autographs from all the volunteers!
Volunteers wrapping presents.
After the proclamations the Sunshine Toy Drive kicked off. I even took the opportunity to assist parents with “shopping” for their children. It was truly an honor for us to be a part of giving back to Hurricane Sandy victims. We would like to thank Tad Agoglia and Mike Pastore for helping us find the Sunshine Toy Drive and Mike, Hope, and Victoria Plumatillo for letting us be a part of this amazing experience!