Gift giving remains a hallmark of the holidays, and one area nonprofit is helping to make sure this season is no less joyous for less fortunate Valley residents.

Hundreds of Valley families, Tuesday through Friday, will choose from thousands of donated toys in the lower level of the Echo Hose Ambulance Training Center’s Coram Avenue facility — all part of the TEAM, Inc. Toys 4 Kids holiday toy store, which has provided gifts to area families for more than two decades.

“Every family deserves a beautiful holiday, and what better way to make families happy this time of year?” said TEAM Director of Early Children Jamie Peterson. “The unique part about this toy shop is that we allow the families to select the gifts here. They get the chance to enjoy the experience … to shop and choose their own gifts for their children.

“There are so many in the community that, at the end of the day, have to worry about heating their home or feeding their family, so buying toys takes a back seat,” added Peterson.

Peterson said while TEAM oversees the toy store, “this is the community’s project. There is no grant funding stream for this. This is simply built by the volunteers that come every day, the donations that community gives every day.”

Echo Hose Ambulance began using the training center — the former St. Joseph School — more than a year ago, and Peterson said the local volunteer organization offered space in the lower level for a Toys 4 Kids toy store last December.

“They are all leaving with a good size bag of stuff,” said Peterson. “It is great to see the happy faces over the holiday.”

TEAM’s Toys 4 Kids collects new, unwrapped toys during November and December each year and distributes those toys as holiday gifts to needy children in the community. Peterson said the success of the program relies on the massive volunteer support as well as the large amount of toys donated each year.

Each year, with the help of the community, TEAM supplies toys to more than 1,700 children, added Peterson, and this could not be done without the help of the volunteers, collection sites and the contributions received from generous community members.

Toys are dropped off at designated TEAM Toys 4 Kids drop collection sites throughout the community. Boxes are made available at these locations from mid-November until approximately one week before Christmas.

Echo Hose Ambulance Co. volunteers spent Thursday, Dec. 12, and Friday, Dec. 13, driving ambulances to more than 50 stops throughout town collecting donated toys, which were then transported to a toy workshop on Coram Avenue, where volunteers sorted and classified toys by price, age and gender.

“This helps so many families, but it is more than just the toys, it is the whole experience,” said Echo Hose Ambulance Assistant Chief Joe Laucella, who arrived, donning his Santa hat, with several bags filled with more than 150 toys left in the donation box at the RD Scinto building.

“Walking into the toy store, you just get that holiday feeling, with the music, the decorations,” added Laucella. “It is a wonderful thing for a child to be able to open a gift during the holidays, and it is also a wonderful feeling for a parent to be able to shop for their child at the holidays. Families need it.”

Families are provided with “toy bucks” to shop for four toys for each child. Each child receives two yellow toy bucks, for toys up to $10; one green toy buck, for toys valued between $10 and $20; and one red toy buck, for a toy valued at $20 or more. Toy store hours will be Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. There will be later hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

The eligibility requirements are for residents of Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Orange, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton, and Woodbridge, with children 12 years old and younger and whose family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

“We are different from other toy drives because we allow the shopping experience,” said Peterson. “Parents can choose what they want for their children. We give parents the opportunity to shop, which is a gift in and of itself. The joy of being a parent is being to choose something that you know will make your child will light up … and what’s better than that?”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com