Next Thursday, Friday and Saturday a new "toy store" opens in Darien for a very exclusive clientele—needy children whose parents have received help from Darien's charity at least six times over the past year.
Some of the neediest parents in the area—mostly from Stamford, but some from Norwalk, New Canaan and Darien, as well—will get an appointment to visit the "Toy Store" run by the charity in the parish hall of St. Luke's Church to do a little holiday "shopping" for free.
(You can help the Person-to-Person Toy Store make a local kid's Christmas brighter with a small donation—more about that below.)
The clients get to look through the toys—for children up through age 14—and pick one out for each of their children. Then they get to pick out a free book for each child. Then they get a free board game that the family can play together.
"We encourage families to spend more time together with board games," said Diane Reese Tucker, development director for the Darien-based charity.
"Allowing people to shop for themselves is very empowering—it gives them a choice," said Kathleen Bordelon, director of volunteers for Person-to-Person. The charity follows the same policy with food, clothing and furniture—clients are invited in to make their own choices whenever possible, rather than just handed something chosen by someone else.
People in need have few enough choices, Tucker said.
Throughout the year, Person-to-Person provides clothing, food, furniture, referrals to government social services departments (and advocacy on behalf of clients with them) as well as emergency financial assistance—for instance, the security deposit that a homeless person may need if they're otherwise able to move into an apartment.
More on how it works
Parents can visit the annual Toy Store while their children wait in a special area with volunteer "elves" who help them make some crafts for the 20 minutes or so the parent is picking out gifts, Tucker said. The toys are separated by age group
Other "elf" volunteers greet the parents and escort them through the store. Still other "elves" will help wrap the gifts.
Other volunteers have been working for the past six months or so to gather toys for the store—sometimes by hunting for bargains, and other times by asking for donations.
The Toy Store has been offered by Person-to-Person for at least 20 years, volunteers and staff members say—possibly even longer.
Here's where you can help
The Toy Store is a little low on certain items, Bordelon said. They could use more gifts appropriate for kids 12 to 15 years old—all gifts at the Toy Store are new, unlike used items that Person-to-Person accepts for regular donations of clothing or children's books.
If you'd like to help out, you could bring a basketball or football, or perhaps a blow-dryer for a teenage girl. Coupons for movie tickets, movie concession-stand items and $15 gift cards for stores would also be appropriate, Tucker said.
Family board games, particularly classics like checkers, chess, Scrabble or Monopoly would also encourage parents and children to spend family time together, Bordelon said.
So, if you want to, here's a chance to play Scrooge—not the "Bah, humbug" curmudgeon in the early parts of A Christmas Carol, but the reformed Scrooge at the end who determined to help Tiny Tim's and Bob Cratchit's family celebrate a happy, merry Christmas.
For more information about items accepted for donation, call Person-to-Person at (203) 655-0048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Person-to-Person is located behind at 1864 Post Rd., with a driveway entrance on Ring's End Road. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 6 p.m. on Thursdays.