Expanding a mom’s legacy to include thousands of children

While he was growing up, Brian Gotlieb’s mother always stressed the importance of giving back and being active in the community. Gotlieb, who was looking to follow his mother’s teachings after she died in 1993 at the age of 52, decided to work on issues that affected children, creating Shorefront Toys for Tots in 1995.

The organization was designed to distribute gifts to underprivileged children during Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Gotlieb, its founder and president, is proud to say that the organization has reached out to more than 32,000 children throughout the community.

On April 12, Shorefront Toys for Tots had its annual Pre-Mother’s Day Brunch at Sirico’s Caterers, and according to Gotlieb, “it was the most successful event thus far.”

At the event the organization honored eight women who they call “Surrogate Mothers”. The eight surrogate mothers this year are: Shirley Aikens, president of Carey Gardens Tenant Association; community activist Sheila Boyd, Rosanna Conenna, assistant principal of I.S. 239; Heather Ann Fiorica, president of District 21’s Community Education Council; Sophia Harrison, executive director of Art’s House Schools; Pastor Constance “Connie” Hulla, of the Coney Island Gospel Assembly; Marie Scordaras, an administrative assistant at Astella Development Corporation; and Lisa Speroni, principal of PS. 253.

“We honor ‘surrogate mothers,’ people who have done a lot in the community, and work primarily with helping children,” he said. “They recognize they have their own family and circle but they go beyond that.”

Apart from distributing toys during the holidays, the group also gives gifts to underprivileged children in Coney Island Hospital and in schools within School District 21.

“We’ve always done it with the belief that even though a child plays with the gift for 15 minutes, it’s 15 minutes they don’t have to worry about problems they have going on,” he said.

The organization is still working on getting donations in, but apart from fundraising money, it also asked attendees at the brunch to donate a new and unwrapped toy.

“A lot of people gave one toy, but [some] gave more than one toy,” Gotlieb said. “They were very generous in terms of helping us and I’m very grateful of people that were able to come, but it’s something that I would say in terms of everything across the board, it was the successful event thus far.”

Gotlieb said that it is “truly wonderful” to see the faces on the children each year. Children who are in the hospital are dealing with their own problems, “so this is a little something to brighten their day and just show them that somebody cares about them.”

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