Stop and Shop stores are major donation sites for the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s annual toy drive this year, and a truckload of toys was dropped off Thursday at a warehouse in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
The Connecticut Lottery Corporation wants people to buy lottery tickets – but not as gifts for kids.
“Lottery tickets are not good presents for children. Toys are good presents for children,” Rob Simmelkjaer, chair of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors said Thursday as officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz gathered in West Hartford to help unload a truck full of toys for patients at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The event was part of the Connecticut Lottery’s 8th Annual “Give a Child a Toy, Not a Ticket” toy drive, which this year is being supported by a partnership with Stop and Shop stores throughout the state.
The toy drive focuses people’s attention on getting toys into the hands of children in need. More than 125 locations throughout the state, including 89 Stop and Shop stores, are serving as drop-off points for toys. The toy drive runs through Dec. 21, and unwrapped toys and games can be dropped in designated collection bins. Coloring and activity books, card games, fleece blankets, superhero action figures, and stuffed animals are among the most-needed items.
“I think one of the best ways to get into the spirit is to go shopping with your kids, for toys,” Simmelkjaer said. Choosing toys for others is a great way to bring home the spirit of giving.
Rudy DiPietro, vice president for Merchandising with Stop and Shop, said giving back to Connecticut Children’s has personal meaning to his family. His son was born in the summer of 2020, and spent three months in the NICU at Connecticut Children’s. “We were so blessed,” he said. “That’s truly a service that this organization provides to the state.”
More than 6,000 toys already collected at Stop and Shop this holiday season were dropped off Thursday, “and we still have time,” DiPietro said.
“We hope that these toys lessen the burden on the families of the children that are staying currently. We know holidays can be a stressful time,” he said.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor is president of the Connecticut Children’s Foundation Board, and support of the hospital is also very near and dear to her heart – and her son’s heart. Her youngest son, now in his 20s, was born with a congenital heart defect and has been a longtime patient at Connecticut Children’s.
“It is a magical place, and it is a place we all need so desperately. And you don’t know sometimes how much you need it until you’re there.” Cantor said she is so grateful to bring everyone together for the holidays, for the generosity of Connecticut Lottery, and to be able to support patients and their families at Connecticut Children’s.
“Thousands, literally thousands of children will be the recipient of all these toys,” Jim Schmerling, president and CEO of Connecticut Children’s said, expressing his thanks to all.
About 140 children are in the hospital now, and many more from throughout the state and the region will be coming through the emergency department. “They don’t come to Children’s because they want to, even though there are great physicians and nurses [who provide] amazing care, compassionate care. … They’re there because they’re ill, they need help.”
While the medicine and technology can get them well, “there is nothing more powerful in the medicine kit than toys,” Schmerling said. “It’s the only thing that will put a smile on a child’s face when they’re in the hospital. It’s more than just a gift, it’s part of the therapy that we provide kids when they’re in the hospital and we are truly, truly grateful.”
Bysiewicz said thinking about the patients at Connecticut Children’s now, with additional challenges the pandemic has created, “This is really, really important for those kids who may be stuck in the hospital throughout the holidays.”
Noting that Santa planned an appearance at the drop-off, Bysiewicz thanked “the elves” from Stop and Shop and the Connecticut Lottery for “doing this important work to put smiles on kids’ faces, to help them get through their time in the hospital. I can see how the panda, or some of these toys could distract kids if they are getting a needle … a test, all those things that are uncomfortable or difficult.”
Lamont also thanked the Stop and Shop elves. “There’s a lot of medical support you can need but there’s nothing like a little bit of love, maybe a panda bear … maybe a Monster Jam truck.”
Lamont thanked Connecticut Children’s for stepping up for the kids, every day. “Make them smile, make them believe that next year’s going to be a very different place and they’ve got a lot to live for, and that’s what it means, and that’s what Santa means when you make a dream.”
The toys dropped off Thursday helped stock the Connecticut Children’s warehouse on South Street in West Hartford. The hospital uses toys and games as distraction for patients prior to shots, tests, surgery, and other procedures, or when they are celebrating a birthday or other special event while a patient. The toys are also used in multiple playrooms through the facilities.
Connecticut Children’s yearly need for donated toys exceeds 80,000, the organization said, ranging from small items like decks of cards or matchbox cars to large items like tablets and video games. A wish list of “Top Needed Toys” can be found on their website.
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