Toy drive aims to spread Christmas cheer in Orleans County

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 November 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Businesses in Orleans County will team with Community Action to try to provide at least one toy for what is expected to be at least 350 families. Community Action met with business representatives this morning at Hoag Library. Pictured include, front row, from left: Carolyn Wagner, human resource manager for BMP in Medina; Anni Skowneski, case manager for Community Action; and Kris Hartwig, administrative assistant at S.B. Whistler and Sons (Phinney Tool and Die). Back row: Marsha Rivers, executive director for the Orleans County United Way; Annette Finch, community services director for Community Action; and Wendy Hinkley.

ALBION – It started in 2011 as a challenge for Medina businesses. Andrew Szatkowski was Worthington Cylinder’s quality control manager. He wanted to see which Medina manufacturer could give the most toys to needy families served by Community Action.

Szatkowski has since taken another job and Worthington Cylinders closed this summer, putting about 150 people out of work.

The toy challenge has been such a success that the effort will continue and it has spread around the county. It also isn’t being called a “Toy Challenge.” It’s part of Community Action’s “Holiday Giving Program” that welcomes toys, food donations, Christmas trees, ornaments and donations.

Last year 370 families were served through the effort coordinated by Community Action. The toy donations make it possible for each child to receive at least one toy at Christmas. The toy drive accounts for most of those gifts, said Anni Skowneski, case manager for Community Action.

“Without this we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Skowneski said during a kickoff meeting today at the Hoag Library.

Companies that donate to the cause receive certificates of participation. The company that gives the most gifts, as a percentage of its employees, will get a plaque.

Carolyn Wagner, human resources manager for BMP in Medina, urged businesses to tout the toy giving effort. BMP wraps a box and urges employees to leave unwrapped toys in it. The company offers prizes for employees that donate.

Precision Packaging Products in Holley has offered to give participating companies boxes for the effort, which will run until Dec. 5. Community Action will pick up the gifts and they will be stored in the First Baptist Church basement in Albion. Parents of the children can come to the church, pick out a gift and wrap the present.

Skowneski said many of the families have working parents who struggle to pay their bills. Paying for Christmas presents is difficult for many of the working poor, who are already struggling with rising heat and energy costs, she said.

She said the community continues to come through with generosity during the holiday season.

“God smiles on us and finds a way for us to take care of our families,” Skowneski said.

Annette Finch, community services director for Community Action, has been filling holiday baskets for families for more than three decades.

“I was hoping we’d be out of job,” she said. “It’s horrible that we still have to do this. These families are not asking for iPods or big things. They’re asking for clothing or a football.”

For more information on the toy drive, call Skowneski at 585-589-5605 or Kris Hartwig at S.B. Whistler and Sons in Medina at 585-798-3000.