Holiday traditions of generosity continue, even if remotely from home

A woman holds a toy next to a bin of toys donated by the Yale Veterans Network.
Marinda Monfilston from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion brings a Yale Veterans Network toy donation to the collection site.

In a year in which many routines were disrupted by COVID-19, Yale affiliates across the campus have kept up annual traditions of spreading holiday cheer by donating toys, clothing, and other essentials to those in need.

Campus affinity groups have worked with the Yale Police department, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Faculty Research Management Services, and other departments to collect or purchase new toys as part of the “Adopt a Family for the Holidays” drive and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots drive.

The Adopt a Family for the Holidays drive, coordinated by Katherine Viera, co-chair of the Yale Latino Networking Group (YLNG), will send toys to children who are living in temporary housing at Christian Community Action’s Hillside Shelter in New Haven. Individual staff members and the New Haven Club-National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Inc. are also contributing toys for the drives. 

This year, with the COVID pandemic, was especially challenging for kids,” said Viera, a financial analyst in Faculty Research Management Services. “They are studying remotely, which just complicates their experience of being in a shelter during the holidays.” 

The children range in age from newborns to older teens. The older children made their own wish lists, and parents provided lists for the younger children. “Parents of babies asked for things like diapers and wipes, and the children often requested very basic items, such as a comforter or a gift card so they can buy groceries for their family,” said Viera.

Among the items donated by staff members are a book on forensic science for a child interested in that field and an entire play kitchen set for a young girl. “She is going to be one happy little girl on Christmas,” said Viera.

Yale Latino Networking Group co-chair Katherine Viera with donations collected through the Adopt a Family for the Holidays drive
Yale Latino Networking Group co-chair Katherine Viera with donations collected through the Adopt a Family for the Holidays drive.

Lori Rasile, the director of finance for the School of Nursing, led a drive hosted by the Yale Veterans Network in support of the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots holiday toy collection. The campaign is organized locally each year by Woodward Avenue Maintenance Service, a company of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve based in New Haven. This year’s drive is also sponsored by the Yale-affiliated radio station WYBC, the Yale Police department, and American Legion Post 210.

The Toys for Tots drive has long been a Yale tradition, with staff members donating new, unwrapped toys by dropping them off in boxes distributed throughout the campus. Rasile, a former co-chair of the Yale Veterans Network, began coordinating the campus-wide drive in 2013, when that affinity group was launched.

With most staff members working remotely, just a few donation boxes were placed in campus buildings. Instead, most staff members who participated in the drive made monetary donations to Toys for Tots online.

One group of loyal contributors to the campaign is Yale police officers, organizers said. And this year is no exception. A box was filled at the Yale Police headquarters, and Sgt. Chris Reddington has been helping Rasile with picking up toy donation boxes and delivering them to the collection site. “The Yale police are fantastic,” said Rasile. “The officers typically have competitions to see who donates the most toys. They’ve been very generous.”

Toys for Tots volunteers with donations ready for delivery to children in the New Haven community.
Lori Rasile and Yale police officer Chris Reddington at the Toys for Tots collection site. The Peabody Museum of Natural History donated 300 toys from its museum shop to the drive.

This year, Yale Peabody Museum shop manager Hanna Meyer donated some 300 toys — mostly stuffed animals — from the gift shop to the drive. The shop has closed because the museum is undergoing extensive renovations, and Meyer otherwise would have had to store the items until the museum reopened.

Rasile said she is happy to lead the toy drive every year.

It doesn’t take a lot of time; you just have to be dedicated,” she said. “Being a vet myself, this is an enjoyable mission to help bring joy to local children, and not even COVID could stop those of us who participate from doing that. This is for the greater good of helping the local New Haven community.”

In addition to these drives, the Yale African American Cultural Center held a Winter Essentials drive in November to provide warm clothing and other basic necessities to community members in need. Individual departments have their own toy drive traditions. Since March, members of the Yale community have also been generous supporters of the Community Fund for New Haven, which was established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support nonprofit organizations providing food, shelter, personal protective equipment, educational assistance, healthcare deliver, and assist businesses in the local area. 

Yale staff members who haven’t done so already can still donate to the 2020 Yale United Way Hope for the Holidays campaign, which supports local individuals and communities across a broad range of areas, including housing, job training, education, and health. Yale is matching every dollar raised by employees up to $25,000.

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale responds to COVID-19

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Bess Connolly : elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu,