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Dyker Civic Association and 68th Precinct give toys to tots

A yearly tradition brought the holidays to Saint Philip’s Church in Dyker Heights as members of the Dyker Heights Civic Association and the 68th Street Precinct Community Council held a joint meeting Tuesday, December 10.

But as civics association president Fran Vella-Marrone said, “Tonight’s really a party.”

The group got together to wish meeting-goers a happy and healthy holiday season as well as to unveil hundreds of toys donated through its annual toy drive. This year, the toys will go to deserving tots of military children at Fort Hamilton Army Base as well as families who utilize the food pantry at Reaching Out Community Services.

“We do this every year,” said Vella-Marrone, “and this year is no different. We give these toys to children out there that wouldn’t normally have a Christmas.”

68th Precinct Community Council President Ilene Sacco agreed, adding that this year, the end goal seemed far out of reach.

“The last week [of the drive] felt like a scene out of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” she said. “We’re in our eighth or ninth year here and this year’s toy drive was a little slow. A couple of our locations had no toys at all, so we sent out a call of arms.”

That call was quickly answered.

“I had people I’ve never met before calling me and telling me they hung our flyer in their window,” said Sacco adding that Third Avenue restaurants like Salty Dog and Trace even donated portions of their own toy drives. “This is the holiday spirit.”

Vella-Marrone and a room full of family, friends and elected officials agreed.

“My office was overrun with toys,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile whose office joined those of State Senator Marty Golden, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, Congressmember Michael Grimm and Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny and more as drop-off points. “If this can’t get you into the holiday spirit, nothing will.”

Brook-Krasny also commended the community for the generous out-pouring.

“It’s a pleasure to be here again even though time is flying,” he said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful time of year so let’s enjoy our families, our loved ones and our community.”

Also thankful for the generous donations were Army Chaplain JamisonBowman and Staff Sargent Faheem Blount of Fort Hamilton and Reaching Out Community Services Founder Thomas Neve.

“A lot of people forget that New York City has a huge population of homeless National Guard and military personnel of all five branches of service, many of whom are married and some are going through divorce,” said Bowman. “Sometimes, children are in the middle of all that and they’re innocent. So, on behalf of Army Garrison Fort Hamilton and all five branches of military service, I say thank you very much.”

Neve was also floored by the toys that lined the walls of Saint Philip’s.

“We do this every year to give these kids a little bit of hope,” said Neve, “and this contribution came as a tremendous blessing this year.” For the first time in eight years of annual toy drives, Reaching Out may not have Toys for Tots’ support.

“Everything’s up in the air,” he said, “but this really helps make sure we can meet the demand of some 600 children this year.”

Other drop-off points including Nordic Delicacies, Helping Hands and the 68th Precinct.

All in good cheer, no holiday party would be complete without a bit of caroling.

“We normally have a wonderful, wonderful group perform,” said Vella-Marrone, heartbroken that the Guild for Exceptional Children choir could not weather the snowstorm for the annual event, “but this year, you’re the chorus.”

The evening ended on a good note as community members across the boards participated in an interactive version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” starting and ending with Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann’s “partridge in a pear tree.”

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