Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 50
 
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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Decking the Halls With Gifts: Human Services Launches Toy Drive

Matthew Hersh

The otherwise ordinary municipal offices belonging to Princeton Human Services have been transformed into a veritable “what’s hot” in children’s holiday gifts this year.

The business-like beige corridor normally leading to the municipal agency’s conference room and offices is lined with hundreds of freshly wrapped packages for distribution during Human Services’ ninth annual holiday toy drive. The entire operation calls on gratified and slightly beleaguered Human Services administrators to double as both Santa and his elves in addition to their existing overtime duties.

In October, Human Services began accepting applications from Princeton families seeking assistance for holiday gift purchases. Human Services then brokered an arrangement where those families supply a holiday wish list for Princeton donors spreading some holiday cheer. The $50 per-gift limit is a recommended monetary ceiling, but it hardly puts a lid on the overall goal of the program, said Cynthia Mendez, Human Services executive director.

The first Human Services toy drive, which Ms. Mendez helped organize, was a carry-over from her days at the Urban League of Metropolitan Trenton. “I had been here for six weeks, and we needed to do something to get the Human Services Commission on the map and there was no community-wide toy drive in town,” she said. “And we’ve been doing this ever since.”

This year’s campaign is a collaborative effort with Princeton Young Achievers, and 183 applicants have taken part in the program. “All of our kids, all of this stuff, is going to kids who live here in the community and it does not go outside of the community,” Ms. Mendez said.

So essentially, if you’re within the city limits, and you’re under 12, no matter the family income level, you can take part in the program. While children from families in the upper tax brackets are not likely to appear as applicants, there is no financial requirement. If someone falls within those criteria, “you will get at least one gift,” said Ivonne Ruiz Clark, Human Services’ Latino community liaison. “Our numbers keep getting higher and higher, and I love the fact that this is not a lottery — our kids will get a gift.”

Donors this year include not only individuals and families looking to spread some holiday cheer, but local groups, such as area girl scout troops, which are getting into the holiday spirit by raising money to donate to the holiday drive. “It’s great seeing children do this,” Ms. Clark said.

This year, attracting donors was a bit more of a struggle, Ms. Mendez said. Just 10 days ago, Human Services still had over 100 unanswered wish lists, causing something of a panic. “We got on the phone, and started calling people, asking them to spread the word, and talked to current and past donors. It worked,” Ms. Mendez said. As of this Monday, there were only nine wish lists remaining, with both Ms. Clark and Ms. Mendez confident that those will be picked up shortly. She added that while Princeton is often noted for its riches, the holidays pose particular financial challenges for many residents here.

“A lot folks have to make the choice between holiday gifts and rent, or holiday gifts and food. Gifts or food — what’s going to win out? You have to take care of basic needs first,” Ms. Mendez said. “Princeton’s a very affluent community, but there are pockets of poverty here, and we just want to encourage people to help some parents out,” she said.

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For more information on Human Services and its programming, call (609) 688-2055.

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