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Sewickley Valley groups collecting for Toys for Tots

| Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Brenda Fisk is a mom and a grandmother. And as the owner of Sewickley toy store Fun Buy the Pound she knows the importance of toy drives and other programs that work to gather donations for children around the holidays.

“Toys for Tots is a very important program to help those children in need still receive an exciting present under the tree each year,” Fisk said. “Toys help children learn and use their imagination. Both are important tools to have in their development.”

Those thoughts are what keep Beaver County Toys for Tots coordinator Linda McKenzie wanting to do as much as she possibly can for the estimated 600 families she gets toys to every year.

“I got involved with Toys for Tots about eight years ago. The old coordinator took me under her belt and taught me the ins and outs,” McKenzie said.

When the former coordinator stepped back, McKenzie stepped up.

“She convinced me that if no one stepped up that the program would not continue, and that the children in the area would suffer without the program,” McKenzie said.

She simply couldn't bear to not help the children and families that depend on programs like Toys for Tots that provide a sense of normalcy for many that live paycheck-to-paycheck.

McKenzie and volunteers spend many hours preparing for the annual event.

“I spend hours in the office starting in September; I continue to have requirements and deadlines that I must meet for the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation. None of it would be possible if it wasn't for my family and awesome volunteers,” McKenzie said. “They spend countless hours away from their families from October through December.”

Donations come from various stores, companies, businesses and individuals in the tri-state area. Cub Scout groups, school clubs, groups, dance studios and high school seniors sort, box and distribute new toys to nearly 2,400 children in the area. The Beaver County Toys for Tots program supports Sewickley and western Allegheny County families.

Partnering with Duckstein Restoration, a water and fire restoration company in McKees Rocks, the Cochran Hose Co. in Sewickley has collected toys for six years to donate as many toys to Toys for Tots as they can.

Capt. Shayne Quinn knows many are stretched thin during the holidays, but is confident more toys will come in during Sewickley's Light Up Night celebration on Dec. 1, where the Cochran Hose Co. will have a fire truck available to hold donations.

“We would love for people to bring a toy or stop at a shop in town and buy a toy to drop off. Kids can see the fire truck. Interaction with the public is a huge part of our job. We want people to know who we are, and what better way to do that then to come together for such a good cause?” Quinn said.

Sewickley businesses such as Fun Buy the Pound, Sewickley Sporting Goods, the Sewickley Car Store are participating, as well as the Montessori Children's Community in Sewickley, the Sewickley Borough building and some churches. Toys already have filled the entire back of a fire truck, Quinn said.

Quinn explained that as a firefighter, he and the other members of the hose company have an obligation to their community.

“We were all kids at one time and all had those long lists of things we wanted. Some of those kids got what they wanted, but unfortunately a lot of them didn't. Maybe they didn't get anything at all,” he said. “We as firefighters go into bad situations more than we want to, so anytime we have the opportunity to make a negative situation positive, we do. You can't sit back; you step up and as a community do what you can to make as many people have a positive outcome as possible. It only takes one toy to put a smile on a kid's face.”

Doug Jones and his family have always donated to Toys for Tots, but when his 7-year-old son said he wanted to do more, Jones looked for an opportunity to involve his son's fellow Boy Scouts.

“My son mentioned to me —after a meeting regarding charity — that he wanted to help others. He was looking for some way to contribute,” Jones said.

His son Jacob, who attends Edgeworth Elementary School, worked closely with his dad and his fellow troop members of the Sewickley Area Cub Scouts Area No. 243 to coordinate the efforts, offering an incentive to those wanting to help.

On light up night in Sewickley, anyone who donates a new toy at Fun Buy the Pound between 5 and 9 p.m. will receive 10 percent off of their purchase, Jones said. At Big Bang Comics that night, those who donate will receive a 20 percent discount.

Light up night is the first of two drives the Cub Scouts will be hosting.

“The boys and their families are encouraged to bring toys to our Dec. 5 meeting as well,” Jones said.

Observing the planning that goes along with wanting to coordinate a drive is a vital lesson that Jones hopes the troops will use later in life.

“Success is incumbent on us to encourage others to give through events like this,” he said. “One of the foundations that we stand on is learning to give back to the community.”

Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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