It was a Christmas miracle for kids living in homeless shelters in Coney Island.
The youngsters enjoyed the bounty of a box of playthings collected at The Home Reporter, 9733 Fourth Avenue, for Toys for Tots, after the organization failed to show up to collect them by Friday, December 22, 2017, the last workday before the holiday.
Faced with a stack of toys, Lori Pedone, vice president of events for Schneps Communications and the Star Network, began looking to find a group that would accept them.
Fortuitously, she received a phone call from Mathylde Frontus, a Coney Island resident and activist who had been a recipient of the 40 Under 40 award hosted by Star Network, and the former executive director of Urban Neighborhood Services in Coney Island.
“I called her because we haven’t spoken for so long, and she said it was a miracle,” Frontus said. “She said she needed my help and told me the situation. The donations were supposed to go to the Marines. They never came so she wondered if I could find a way to use them. At the time, nothing came to mind but I just felt confident I could figure something out so I said I’d take them. It was right before Christmas and I thought it would be a shame not to find a good way to use the toys.”
Once she hung up, Frontus rushed to compile a list of nearby shelters to see if they’d accept the gifts. “Then I remembered, right in my own backyard, there was a hotel on Stillwell Avenue, the Sleep Inn, a portion of which, through the Department of Homeless Services, is dedicated to homeless families and children, so I called them and sure enough they said yes,” Frontus recounted.
Frontus said the shelter had around 25 families with children. Once given the green light, Pedone, Frontus and family members gathered at the shelter to set up the Christmas surprise for the children living there. The event was organized in 24 hours.
“It was held in the cafeteria lounge and the hotel management told the families to come down,” she said. “We wore Santa hats, greeted them, and told them to pick whatever toys they wanted. The children were really happy. They really appreciated it.”
Along with the children, parents were also grateful for the surprise gifts.
“The parents really appreciated it,” Frontus added. “People really appreciate that others are thinking about them. That’s what holiday cheer means. When people feel like they’re being remembered, it’s a nice feeling. I felt happy and proud, and I felt like I was like an agent of change. We can all do that. I look at it as a larger life lesson that all around us there are these opportunities just to do something small to help other people.”
Mathylde Frontus and family.