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Franklin Regional elementary toy drive helps to brighten Christmas

Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star Victoria DeCeasare, Justin O'Mahoney, Mitchell Eckersley and Shrey Ramesh, members of the Newlonsburg Student Council pack toys collected for this years toy drive.

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By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Joey Rivardo loves to watch movies.

So this Christmas, the Heritage Elementary fourth-grader decided to share some of that love with children less fortunate.

“Kids who are needy, they don't have a bunch of movies to watch,” Joey said. “They need toys at Christmas to have fun.”

Joey's movies were among the hundreds of toys and gifts collected by the three Franklin Regional elementary schools during the past several weeks. The toys were donated to the Salvation Army to be distributed to families throughout Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.

At Newlonsburg Elementary, kindergarten teacher Christy Armeo said students filled two large boxes with toys for children.

Heritage Elementary exceeded its goal of 250 toys, said Brett Bielewicz, a fourth-grade teacher at Heritage who organized the drive this year. Bielewicz said he didn't know the total amount of toys donated by children, parents and teachers. The annual collection teaches the children to think of others who don't have as much as they do at the holidays, Bielewicz said.

“At Franklin Regional, we are sometimes very fortunate,” Bielewicz said. “It's not always made aware to some of the families and students that even in this community, there are families in need. With the toy drive, we step back and put in perspective the type of families that don't have the types of Christmas mornings (the students) are accustomed to.”

Bielewicz said he encourages students to pick out toys they enjoy or things they might have wanted when they were younger as gifts. This year, he said he saw all types of toys – Disney princess dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys, books, puzzles, board games and computerized games.

“You name it, and I think it's come across my desk,” he said.

When 10-year-old Grace Hough was looking for a toy to donate, she went the artsy route and gave a pottery maker. It wasn't her first instinct, though.

“My mom thought too many kids would bring in Barbie dolls,” she said.

Grace said she thought it was fun to pick out a toy for another child.

“It's nice to know you're helping other people and other kids at Christmas,” she said.

Bielewicz said he hopes the toy drive helps students learn how blessed they are and what it means to give back to others.

“It's about the essence of the holiday and what it means to give,” Bielewicz said. “They learn why it means so much to those who didn't receive very much.

“It's about realizing that even one gift, no matter how big or how small, really means a lot to a kid who doesn't get those gifts at the holiday.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or

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