By Ashley Falite
For many, the holidays are an exciting time filled with fun, family, traditions, and presents. However, it can become a very stressful time for many low-income families here in the Merrimack Valley area. With the expectation to provide gifts for children and other family members, many are left feeling hopeless.
This is where Hands To Help comes in. In partnership with St. Mary of the Assumption parish, Merrimack College created Hands to Help, a community resource center, in 2015. Their goal is to empower and assist members of the Lawrence community by providing a variety of services. One of their initiatives this holiday season is the Annual Holiday Toy Drive, which has now been running for 7 years.
“The holiday time is such a joyous time of year, but for some families it’s actually very difficult because they just can’t afford toys for their children…the Toy Drive is really really helpful because a lot of the families have three or four children, and they just can’t get around to all of them,” said Rosana Urbaez, Executive Director of Hands To Help.
After hearing what types of toys children in the community want each year, Hands to Help creates an Amazon Wishlist. The toys are automatically shipped to their office in Lawrence, where they are placed in festive Christmas bags. Then, around the second or third week in December, parents can pick up the toys for their children, which Urbaez mentioned was one of her favorite parts of the Toy Drive.
“You can tell that it’s just kind of a weight lifted off their shoulders…everything is perfect, people are just getting their toys and leaving happy,” said Urbaez.
For this year’s Toy Drive, there is a goal of helping 100 families provide gifts for their children. The recipients of the toys are mostly made up of people that have worked with Hands to Help in the past, along with families from nearby organization Saint Vincent de Paul in Lawrence.
Hands to Help relies on donations from members of the Merrimack community, such as faculty, alumni, and even students. Urbaez noted that any contributions are very helpful, whether it’s purchasing off of the Amazon wishlist, or even just donating a few dollars to put toward the toys.
“When I heard about the Holiday Toy Drive, I decided it was something I definitely wanted to contribute to. It’s a great way for people to make a difference this Christmas, especially if you are super busy with work or school but still want to help in some way,” Merrimack student Tom Falite said.
Waking up on Christmas morning and getting to open gifts is something Falite remembers as a very memorable part of his childhood. Hands to Help makes that excitement and happiness a reality for so many children on Christmas.
“I think this is an awesome way that the Merrimack community can come together to help those who need it most, and it’s especially nice to see during the Christmas season,” Falite said.Hands to Help is taking donations through December 2nd, 2022. To donate, look out for posters across campus that have QR codes leading directly to the amazon wishlist. Or, follow this link to view the list now.