NYRA Cares: A holiday tradition to continue at Aqueduct with Toys for Tots | NYRA
Nov 30, 2021
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NYRA Cares: A holiday tradition to continue at Aqueduct with Toys for Tots

by NYRA Press Office

A holiday tradition to continue at Aqueduct with Toys for Tots

As often happens with the best ideas, this one started simply.

It dates to a few weeks prior to Christmas 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks of the United States Marine Corps Reserve admired a rag doll that his wife, Diane, had crocheted out of yarn. So how then, Diane wondered, could they give it to a needy child in time to “have a good Christmas?”

Major Hendricks didn’t know of an agency that distributed toys. So the next day, he and a fellow Marine made a proposal to their superiors for an annual Marine Corps-sponsored holiday toy drive.

“Don’t fail” was the only advice they got.

They didn’t – with the best proof of that set for this weekend [Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5] when Marines will be at Aqueduct on behalf of Toys for Tots, the national organization Hendricks co-founded, to collect new, unwrapped toys that will be given as holiday gifts to disadvantaged children in the community. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, now in its 74th year of giving, also collects monetary donations, which it uses to purchase toys.

Unlike 2020 when NYRA’s Toys for Tots collection was entirely online because the COVID-19 pandemic had closed racing to fans, this upcoming campaign marks a return to a longstanding holiday tradition at the Big A. You can give this year online – and in-person at donation boxes at Aqueduct's main clubhouse entrance, as well as the Turf and Field entrance.

Fans can donate at https://www.toysfortots.org/donate/ – via credit card with a secure one-step process; or by selecting and donating toys via the organization’s virtual toy box. You can donate with a check made out to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, and mailed to: U.S. Marine Corps; Attention: GySgt, John Sardine; 605 Stewart Avenue; Garden City, NY 11530.

"This year, fans will be able to give in person at the track or virtually, allowing us to continue the tradition of working with the Marine Corps Reserve to make sure children throughout New York City and across Long Island receive toys for the holidays,” said Vanessa Rodriguez Payne, NYRA Community Relations Manager. "New York racing fans and our employees have generously supported Toys for Tots for years, and we’re thrilled to encourage that giving spirit again in 2021."

As part of its support of the Toys for Tots Foundation, NYRA is making a financial contribution to the organization. Toys for Tots is also supported by generous contributions from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) and thoroughbred owner Harold Lerner.

"NYTHA is proud to once again support the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Foundation and the tireless work they do in bringing joy to children," said NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum. "Our horsemen are a vital part of our local communities, and we have no greater joy than supporting the children of our friends and neighbors during the holidays, and all year round."

Lerner cited the age-old mission of ensuring that the holidays be special for children as his impetus for supporting Toys for Toys. "Lending a helping hand to our fellow New Yorkers is more important than ever,” he said. "The children receiving gifts should know that there is a community that cares about them.”

One of the attractions of supporting Toys for Tots is that the charity ensures that the funds and toys collected go to children in that area. That way, everything collected at Aqueduct next weekend will be distributed to New York families.

The Toys for Tots Foundation is also a Top-Rated Charity in terms of donation dollars that go directly to its mission. More than 97 percent of donations go directly to their mission of providing toys and other gifts to less fortunate children.

Last year, Marines distributed a record 20.2 million toys to 7.4 million less fortunate children throughout the nation during the Toys for Tots campaign. Collecting and distributing that many toys in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated what Lt. Gen. Jim Lester, President and CEO of Toys for Tots, described as public support for which the organization is “beyond grateful.”

“The need in 2020 was much greater than the supply in terms of the number of families with children seeking our support ,” said Lt. Gen. Lester. “The support we received made a difference to families who are struggling and provided joy and hope when they needed it the most. We were absolutely blown away by the donations we received.”

For more information on the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, visit www.toysfortots.org.

Five furlongs with…Joanne K. Adams

This month’s edition of five furlongs visits with Joanne K. Adams, the Executive Director of the Belmont Child Care Association.

Adams oversees the operations, fundraising, marketing, public relations, and community outreach for the BCCA, including Saturday's Belmont Child Care Association’s Annual Shopping Event for the Children of Backstretch Workers.

Where does the Belmont Child Care Association Annual Holiday Shopping Event rank, in terms of your “favorite” BCCA events of the year?

Holiday Shopping is my favorite event of the year! We bring the joys of the season to the children and their families and this is their time to feel warmth of knowing that others care. The children shop for gifts for everyone in their immediate family and that provides them with an opportunity to share in the experience in the joy of giving.

How far out do you start planning for the event?

We begin our planning a year ahead and we raise funds to purchase the gifts at our annual Racing for the Children dinner and auction held each August in Saratoga Springs. BCCA’s Holiday Shopping is a specific “call-to-action” at our event.

In general terms, how you go about ordering the toys – so many dolls for girls, trucks for boys and so forth? 

We base our numbers on the number of families who sign up. Each child in the family shops so we merchandise our items according to category and work to have different items in each to make for interesting and fun selections. We aim to use the same price point for all items.

For the most part, do the children receive what they want for the holidays?

Yes! In addition to Holiday Shopping, those children in our program at Anna House write Letters to Santa. Those items are purchased and each child receives the gift they requested at our annual Cookies with Santa at Anna House.

It’s a great event for kids, but for parents as well, we suspect.

Parents enjoy in the excitement as they enter the Sugar Plum Café where they receive treats as they wait for their children to shop. The family proceeds together to meet Santa following the shopping to take photos. This year, every family will receive a special family gift as they depart.

In the community...

Belmont Child Care Association Annual Holiday Shopping Event Set for Saturday

NYRA is happy to support one of the most heart-warming activities of the season: the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA) Annual Holiday Shopping Event for the children of backstretch workers.

Set for Saturday, Dec. 4 at Belmont Park’s Belmont Café, the 17th annual event will feature more than 500 children from the backstretch families of Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack lining up to “shop” for their perfect holiday gift. 

Volunteer “elves” from the community will accompany the children as they select their presents. BCCA raises funds every year to purchase new items for everyone in the family so no money is exchanged as the children “shop.” 

Parents will wait in the Sugar Plum Café as they select holiday treats to take home and Santa will be there to greet them and provide each family with a special gift.

The BCCA provides a safe and loving care center and early education for the children of backstretch workers at New York racetracks. The BCCA extends a special thank you to these generous sponsors of the Holiday Shopping Event: America’s Pastime Stables, Bloom Racing Stable, Flying P Stable, Jay Gagliano, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), the National Charity League, Inc. (Garden City Chapter), P.C. Richard & Son, Spedale Family Racing, and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation.

A helping hand...

Sponsor a Family for the Holidays...

The New York Race Track Chaplaincy wants to provide food and gifts to the neediest of its backstretch families during the holiday season. 

The Chaplaincy’s “Sponsor-A-Family” Program is a great way to do so. It offers supporters a way to say “thank you” to members of the backstretch community, whose tireless work and dedication make them the unsung heroes of the racetrack.

Sponsors provide new winter clothing for the children of backstretch families, a new toy for each child, and a grocery store gift card for the family's Christmas dinner. Those who are not shoppers are welcome to make a financial donation.

You can sponsor a child, give a “family dinner” gift card, sponsor a family of four, six or eight; or just make an end-of-the-year donation. Go to www.rtcany.org and click on "Sponsor a Family For Christmas" to learn how to participate or text "Sponsor" to 516-715-2004.

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