TEAM giving gifts galore

The Echo Hose Ambulance Community Training Center became a Christmas paradise for needy families this past week.

Hundreds of families spent Friday, then Monday through Wednesday choosing from thousands of donated toys in the lower level of the Coram Avenue facility — all part of the TEAM, Inc. Toys 4 Kids holiday toy drive, which has provided gifts to area families for more than two decades.

“This is incredible for families,” said TEAM Early Childhood Director 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.”

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

“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 Wednesday, Dec. 12, 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.

“TEAM’s Toys 4 Kids program differs from other holiday toy drives because parents are not simply handed a random toy based on gender and age group; parents are able to shop for their children, making selections based on their child’s interests,” said Peterson.

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.

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 income does not exceed 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

“Dozens of volunteers make this Christmas wonderland come to life,” said Peterson, adding that “no one worries about price, they just pick toys that make their children happy … and make this a happy holiday.”