Number of Participants: 2
Hours Donated: 25
Value of Time Served: $423
Event Type: Children & Youth
School: John F Kennedy High School
Date: December 25, 2023
John F. Kennedy High School
Bellmore Avenue, Bellmore
Hundreds of toy drives occur every holiday season, collecting dozens of donations. Communities like to give back to those in need — whether it be through organizations like Toys for Tots, or to school drives that donate toys to children in hospitals.
Holiday gift drives are usually geared towards younger children, and the donated items aren’t always suitable for teens. Sometimes, this is due to a lack of awareness that older children are in need of donations too, or a failure to understand what may be the best, age-appropriate gifts to donate.
As a result, these drives often overlook teenagers. Olivia Silver and Jessica LaSalle, both juniors at John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, are seeking to change that. With the help of the school’s Key Club, the 16-year-old girls wanted to do something to give back to kids their own age this holiday season.
“We wanted to do some community service, especially during the holidays,” Silver said. “We felt like we wanted to give back to our community and everything — and we felt like the best way, with the theme of the holidays, was to give gifts back to people in the hospitals, since they’re in need during this time. We especially wanted to stick to teens, because we felt better giving back to people our own age, since we know more about that age and what people would want.”
Key Clubs, which are part of the broader Kiwanis International, are student-led organizations that encourage leadership through serving others. The girls suggested the idea of donating gifts to teenagers at a Key Club meeting right before Thanksgiving, and everyone liked the idea. The club needed permission from the school to orchestrate a bake sale, in order to raise money to purchase the gifts, Silver and LaSalle explained. The bake sale was approved a few weeks later, and it was held on Dec. 14.
“At the bake sale, the Key Club members did help with that,” Silver said. “They did end up bringing in baked goods and everything. And it was pretty successful. A lot of people did bring things, and a lot of people were willing to give back as well, since they knew the cause.”
The bake sale raised a little more than $200, and the following weekend the girls went out and purchased 40 gifts, for both boys and girls, at Five Below. The purchased items included blankets, stuffed animals, coloring books, reusable cups, headphones, Bluetooth speakers, colored pencils and more.
The week before Christmas, the girls brought the donations to Mount Sinai South Nassau, coordinating their efforts with AnnMarie DiFrancesca, director of the hospital’s Child Life program, who was happy to accept gifts for teens.
“She explained that yeah — a lot of teenagers do get forgotten,” Silver said. “It’s mostly just toys for toddlers until elementary school. She was very happy that we were giving the gifts, and she was happy that it was directed towards teens.”
Since the drive was a success, the girls expressed hope to organize it again next holiday season, and that the goodwill gesture will continue after they graduate.
“It definitely felt good to work toward this,” Silver said. “We didn’t really know if it was going to be successful at all with the bake sale — we didn’t really know if that would work out, and it ended up working out. It shows how great the community around us is and how good people can be. It did motivate us.”
LaSalle added, “It feels good to give back, especially to people who might be needing more during these times. Especially since they don’t always get things — and when they do, it might be stuff that is more childish for them. We thought about them, and their age, and what they would want specifically.”