Red Cross and TravelCenters of America bring holiday joy to families following loss

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

December 20, 2019- On Dec. 18, the American Red Cross’ Northeast Ohio Regional headquarters in Cleveland was a scene of giving, reunion and holiday spirit, as Red Cross volunteers and staff handed out toys to children whose families faced home fires this year. Now in its 21st year, the event is made possible by the generosity of TravelCenters of America, whose employees collected more than 600 toys this year.

In one of several festive gatherings, 17 families with 50 children braved the winter weather to attend. They were greeted by Red Cross representatives and guided to an age-appropriate section. Children then picked from an astonishing array of stuffed animals, games, books, dolls, play sets, toy vehicles, art supplies, learning kits and other toys.

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Holiday decorations and gift-wrapping supplies were available for adults, and cookies and cocoa were served. Many expressed gratitude.

“God has blessed us with the Red Cross and other agencies that help,” said Johnita Smith. “This definitely comes at just at the right time for me and my family, as Christmas would have been very hard without assistance. We are very grateful.”

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Similarly, Zoralys Cruz said her family lost everything and otherwise would not have had presents for Christmas, so the toy drive means a lot. She said her family is recovering little by little, and they are grateful for everything.

Nearly 200 more children in Northeast Ohio will receive toys thanks to TravelCenters of America. Similar events are occurring throughout Northeast Ohio. Each Red Cross chapter is holding toy distributions this week, and many volunteers are delivering to families who live far or are unable to attend.

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While the focus is on the families and children, Red Cross volunteers and staff also enjoy the event.

“The event itself is powerful on many different levels,” said Renee Palagyi, senior program manager of Disaster Cycle Services for the Northeast Ohio Region. “People who have suffered horrible disasters now have something to give their children for the holidays. It is also important that our team members take part in this happy occasion. After all the tragedies and difficulties they’ve faced throughout the year, they, too, are lifted by it. Our team members see those who were initially met on their worst day, but now in a happy situation. That’s why I love it.”

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I can attest to that, as I was one of the responders who assisted Johnita’s family. I feel fortunate to have been able to help following a disaster. Participating in the toy drive, seeing a family I assisted, now in a festive setting, and helping them select toys made the season a bit brighter.

Over the next several weeks, the remaining toys will be distributed to families facing home fires and other disasters. Such tragedies are especially difficult during the holidays, particularly for children, and a toy can bring comfort as a family begins to recover. Thanks to the employees of TravelCenters of America, the Red Cross can lift their spirits and brighten their holidays.

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Watch the video below to hear a special message from Tina Arundel, manager, corporate communications for TravelCenters of America.:

Visit out Flickr page to view more photos from the toy giveaway event.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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