Contributed by Heather Lutz
Each year Project Paterson, a service club at Hills, runs a toy drive during the holiday season to benefit children whose parents are unable to give them holiday gifts. The toys that are collected are donated to the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), where they are sorted, wrapped, and given to families.
In the past, Project Paterson has collected its toys through donation boxes placed throughout the school. This year, however, a few members of Project Paterson have offered their homes as toy donation drop-off locations in addition to Hills due to the movement from hybrid instruction to fully-remote instruction following Thanksgiving.
Ms. Heather Lutz, the co-advisor for Project Paterson along with Mrs. Mahaffey, explained the process of what happens after all donations are collected from the community.
“Typically, [Mrs. Mahaffey’s] room is our ‘North Pole,’ and Project Paterson members spend considerable time meticulously counting every toy and organizing them for transportation. Employers and volunteers from the NJCDC come with a van on a designated afternoon to pick up a bulk of the toys, but we also bring hundreds with us when we go to their headquarters in Paterson after school.”
When members of the club arrive in Paterson, they take on the part of organizing and wrapping the gifts for over 800 families to pick up.
“Some of us help to sort all of the toys the NJCDC has collected by age group and gender, while most are given a family, with the names and ages of the children in it. We get to ‘shop’ for three toys for each child, trying to make sure that every sibling gets equitable and equally exciting gifts. Then, we wrap them and fill out a label with the child’s name and a salutation from Santa,” Lutz stated.
Last year, the Hills community donated over 2,000 toys which were given to those in need last holiday season, a record number for the club.
This year, the club cannot partake in some of the usual activities due to the coronavirus pandemic; however, Lutz said that “[their] main goal is to ensure that the magic of Christmas is not lost.”
The final count for the toys will be on Monday, and the gifts will be picked up and delivered to NJCDC on Tuesday. The NJCDC will then wrap and sort the toys themselves due to the pandemic.
Members of Project Paterson discussed the impact that the club has had on them.
Jess Gudin, a senior and member who is offering their house as a collection location, said that “Project Paterson is a relatively easy way for high school students to give back to less fortunate families and spread the joy of the holiday season. It’s a great way for Hills to come together as a community, as this has become a Hills tradition, and make hundreds of families happy during the holidays. This year has been tough for everyone, which is why it is more important now more than ever to help out in any way possible, whether it is physically donating or just spreading the word.”
Amanda Rabizadeh, a sophomore member, said that the club “has allowed [her] to become more involved in the community and has given [her] a chance to make a difference.”
Though Project Paterson’s toy drive is slightly different this year, the NJCDC with Hills’ contributions will be able to serve the community this holiday season.
For more information on Project Paterson and the toy drive, follow @projectpaterson on Instagram.