Four thousand toys have gone to Hurricane Sandy's smallest victims, thanks to a free toy store set up by a Staten Island nonprofit. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
It looks just how you'd expect a toy store to look just days before Christmas: crowded, a little crazy and full of children.
But this is no ordinary toy store. All of the items here have been donated, and all of them are free for children affected by Hurricane Sandy.
"It's amazing," said Allison Puckhaber, a Belle Harbor resident who lost her home. "Just, like, the quality of the toys, it's really wonderful. We'll have a really blessed Christmas this year."
The Staten Island nonprofit Where to Turn holds a holiday toy drive every year, but this year, in the wake of the storm, they received so many donated toys that it had no room for them all. With the help of elected officials and a donated space from the local bus drivers' union, the temporary store was born.
The Hurricane Sandy relief holiday toy store has been open just two weeks, and already, thousands of toys have been given away.
"When they first walk through the door, they're kind of timid," said Madeline Bergin, a volunteer at the store. "The experience we really wanted them to have was to basically shop with dignity, to come in and not feel like it was a handout.
Bergin said she struggled with accepting the help of others after her firefighter husband, John, died on September 11, 2001. But she said that's why she's happy to be part of the volunteer-only staff and help return the kindness that was given to her.
The more than 6,000 toys the store has collected have come from area schools, from local businesses and from private donations. And they keep coming, winning the gratitude of parents like Anita Rodriguez, whose 9-year old son lost nearly all of his toys.
"A half a plastic bag is all we salvaged that was in his room, and he's like, 'This is it, mom? This is all that's left?'" Rodriguez said. "And I said 'Yeah, I'm sorry, but Christmas is coming and we'll more than make up for it.'"
The storefront is on loan through Monday afternoon, when the toy store will close. After that, the space will be cleaned, and organizers said they plan to distribute any leftover toys to nursery schools and community groups in areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.