GREAT KILLS — A Staten Island nonprofit wants to make sure children who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy won't lose Christmas and Hanukkah too.
“These kids that lost their homes, or have been displaced, are not going to be able to really celebrate the holidays,” said Dennis McKeon, executive director of Where to Turn. “There’s not going to be a lot of money or time available to purchase toys.”
Where to Turn anticipates having more than 2,000 toys to chose from, McKeon said. Staten Islanders armed with FEMA-assistance numbers and proper ID are invited to shop for free.
Where to Turn was established more than 10 years ago to help families of 9/11 victims, and has been running a holiday toy drive ever since. Organizers decided to stock shelves of a store this year to best serve the huge number of families severely affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“It serves two purposes,” McKeon said about the store.
“It gets the kids more of the toys they want — they’re not just getting a random toy. And we don’t turn anyone away. I’d hate to have a breakfast with Santa and only have room for 100 people.”
McKeon said he's had help from state Sen. Andrew Lanza and members of the bus drivers union, who enabled him to secure the 3948 Amboy Road storefront that opens Saturday and will remain in business through December.
“The holidays are right around the corner and hundreds of kids on Staten Island no longer have a home to decorate a Christmas tree, a window to place the menorah, a kitchen to bake Christmas cookies in or a family room to unwrap presents,” Lanza said.
“We are trying to help the families who were devastated by Sandy enjoy the holidays during this tragic time.”
The store will be open from noon to 7 p.m. every day, McKeon said, and will be staffed by three to four volunteers a day.
To keep the shelves stocked, McKeon said local schools and businesses have already committed to running toy drives, and residents are welcome to donate additional gifts at the store.
“We’re fairly confident that we'll be able to collect enough toys to restock,” he said.
If there's an abundance of toys, McKeon said he plans to share the excess with families in hard-hit areas of Queens and Brooklyn.
Any leftover toys will become part of Where to Turn’s January re-gifting program, which will allow people to donate unwanted gifts that will be given out to Sandy victims.
“Anybody who gets something for Christmas or Hanukkah, instead of returning it to the store, we're going to redistribute it to the Sandy victims,” McKeon said.
While he’s never tried to run a holiday toy store like this before, McKeon has reached out to Staten Islanders through Where to Turn’s website and Facebook to spread the word.
He said he's anticipating a big word-of-mouth response, and he’s not worried that residents still without power won't hear about the store.
“This is going to be an easy sell," he said. "Somebody getting toys for free? I don’t think we’ll have problems attracting people.”