By Brad Gavin, American Red Cross volunteer
The annual TravelCenters of America Toy Giveaway event is Renee Palagyi’s favorite day of the year. Watching children with parents excitedly selecting toys and stuffed animals and enjoying hot cocoa, the Senior Disaster Program Manager of the American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region said, “This is a very important light at the end of a really challenging year for a lot of these recipients.”
In its 20th year, the Annual Toy Giveaway is an event where 200 children were invited to enjoy festive cheer and take home new toys and goodies. The event aims to make the holidays a little more cheerful for community members who have been the victims of various disasters.
Employees of TravelCenters of America, headquartered in Westlake, began the tradition of collecting toys for children 20 years ago. This year, members of Local 93 of the Cleveland Firefighters Union also contributed toys, as did many Red Cross employees.
On October 27, Wyonna Nash’s home was engulfed in a home fire. She and her children made it out safely but the past few months have been challenging. As she was helping her child choose a toy, she said, “We are grateful to the Red Cross. We are happy to be here. Without them, we don’t know where we would be.”
“Children need toys. This is Christmastime,” said Tom Liutkus, Senior Vice President of Marketing for TravelCenters of America. “We want them to have a memorable Christmas in what was otherwise a tragedy that may have occurred in their lives.”
Tom said that over the past 20 years, employees of TravelCenters of America have donated more than 5,500 toys for the annual giveaway.
The event was also attended by many volunteers who responded to disasters throughout the year. It’s a rewarding experience, since the last time the volunteers saw many of the recipients, they were dealing with one of the worst days of their lives; often, as firefighters were trying to salvage what was left of homes and apartment buildings.
Ellen Braun, a volunteer who has assisted with the toy drive over the last few years explained, “It’s all about giving back. The holidays are about kids and family. I just wish I could help more!”
Between the hugs, toys and messages of hope, the event was a wonderfully festive occasion that helped make the holidays a little brighter for families who have had a devastating 2018. Watch a video of the event here.
You may also view more photos of the toy giveaway by visiting our Flickr page here.
If you’d like to help families who experience home fires and other disasters, you can donate to Disaster Relief, or become a Red Cross disaster services volunteer. Visit redcross.org.neo for more information.