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Shaler Elementary drive collects more than 800 toys

| Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, 2:51 p.m.
Shaler Area Elementary School's Student Ambassadors delivered toys to North Hills Community Outreach's Millvale location on Dec. 20.
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Shaler Area Elementary School's Student Ambassadors delivered toys to North Hills Community Outreach's Millvale location on Dec. 20.

Shaler Area Elementary School students celebrated the season of giving by donating more than 800 items Dec. 20 to North Hills Community Outreach's Millvale Holiday Toy Shop.

According to NHCO communications director Jennifer Kissel, NHCO — a nonprofit serving northern Allegheny County's low-income residents — offers Holiday Toy Shops at three locations, providing gifts for 800 to 1,200 children. Parents or guardians in need make appointments to visit the shops, where they may choose a determined number of unwrapped gifts and a stocking stuffer per child.

She said the fact that the toys are new and unwrapped maintains a sense of dignity for the recipient families. “They can choose something that they think their child would like, and it will be from them, not an anonymous person. Knowing that they will have gifts for their children for the holidays takes away some of the financial stress of the season, and they can put the money saved toward other bills.”

The 19 sixth-graders who constitute the club brainstormed toy drive ideas over lunch with Student Ambassadors adviser and school guidance counselor Andy Sieber.

“I just remember us just talking about, like, collecting toys for kids that don't have toys, and we just made a whole plan just to figure out how to make it easier, but all we wanted to do was help students that aren't as fortunate as us,” said Brady Diegelman.

The students devised a number of ways to inform Shaler Area School District students and parents that they were collecting toys for children aged six months to 16 from Nov. 20 to Dec. 13.

“We went to all of the classrooms and talked about it. We put a bunch of papers out in the hall,” said Maleah Errito. “We have this Titan News Network — that's what we call it; it's a video that sixth-graders do in the morning. We put it on there.”

Anthony Mazza said that he and his fellow students offered the class who brought in the most toys doughnuts. Mackenzy Miller said the club members charted each class's donations on a large poster outside of the school cafeteria. The Student Ambassadors each donated $1 for the winners' treats, she said.

Kissel said the students “brought everything from art supplies to sports equipment, stuffed animals, room décor, makeup kits, headphones and even karaoke machines.” She estimates that the items have a value of at least $12,000.

Initially, the group stored the donations in Sieber's office.

“My office is a nice size for an office, and I could barely move. So, then we had to move it to the back of the stage of the auditorium. It really looked like Santa's workshop,” he said.

“I was really happy that they (the donors) were thinking about people who didn't have what we had and thinking about how they could help with that,” said Mia Cipner.

School custodians drove the bagged donations to North Hills Community Outreach's Millvale location. Parent volunteers drove the students, some of whom wore Santa hats.

The club members and parents displayed the items on the Holiday Toy Shop's tables as though they were department store shelves, Sieber said.

Sieber said the sixth-grade teachers surprised the parents and students upon their return to the school with an appreciation luncheon in the library. He stressed his gratitude toward the ambassadors' parents for their support.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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