In 2015, Lia Di Angelo, of Glen Cove, decided to convert her birthday from a day about her into a celebration for other people. As her Dec. 18 birthday approached that year, she explained, her friends and family were asking her what she wanted, but she couldn’t come up with any answers. So, rather than collect material goods for herself, Di Angelo asked to be given children’s toys so she could donate them.
“I was fortunate enough to find myself not needing anything,” she said, “so I thought about helping others,” Di Angelo said.
Four years later, Di Angelo, 48, a florist who is originally from Cordoba, Argentina, has transformed her birthday toy drive into an annual event that collects hundreds of toys and thousands of dollars for charities. And this year’s drive evolved even further, marking the inaugural gala for the Comite Civico Argentino, or Argentine Civic Committee, a nonprofit organization that Di Angelo founded in July to serve the less fortunate in both her local community and in countries in Latin America. The gala, the Evergreen School in Hemsptead, also served as an opportunity for her to honor 10 people who have helped her succeed and given to her causes, including fellow Glen Cove residents Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a county legislator, and Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews, a Glen Cove City Councilman.
The Comite Civico Argentino is the culmination of Di Angelo’s philanthropic spirit, but she cited the local charities she has worked with in the past as the main inspiration for starting a charity of her own. She said she had learned the most from Gil Bernardino, president of Circulo de la Hispanidad, a Long Beach-based nonprofit that provides resources and educational programs to Long Island’s Latino community. After helping the organization with its fundraisers, Di Angelo said, she felt confident to hold one of her own, which is why she was happy to turn her birthdays into toy drives.
During the initial one, in 2015, Di Angelo met DeRiggi-Whitton, who helped her connect with other community leaders and resources. DeRiggi-Whitton, who has helped support the Toys for Tots collection drive at Glen Cove’s Martino Auto Concepts for years, said she was proud that another Glen Cove resident wanted to do more to help others.
Together, Di Angelo and DeRiggi-Whitton helped donate more than 100 toys to a drive hosted by County Legislator Siela Bynoe in 2015. This year, Di Angelo has collected more than 600 toys, and is planning to collect even more by Three Kings Day — which celebrates the trip of the Magi who witnessed the birth of Jesus — on Jan. 6. DeRiggi-Whitton said she was thankful for Di Angelo’s commitment to the community, and added that Di Angelo always gives to her own fundraisers to combat diabetes.
“Lia’s always working to support the community,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “She’s a community-oriented person . . . and I was grateful to be honored by her at the gala.”
Along with the toy drives, Di Angelo also began collecting money, and she donated about $1,000 to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital for cancer research in 2018. Through Comite Civico Argentino, she has raised nearly $5,000 this year, which she is planning to use to build wells and donate farm animals to people living in northern Argentina. While $5,000 may not seem like enough to do much, Di Angelo explained that it converts to more than $300,000 Argentine pesos.
She is also working with a Salvadoran counterpart, Vivian Pereira — president of the Comite Civico Salvadoreno — to donate about $3,000 worth of wheelchairs to disabled people in El Salvador. Di Angelo explained that she wanted to use her charity not only to help people in other nations, but also to acknowledge those who have supported her cause, like Pereira.
Stevenson-Mathews, who has known Di Angelo for more than a decade, said he was honored to be recognized along with nine other community leaders at the Comite Civico Argentino gala. He was amazed, he said, to see more than 240 people there. “The fact that someone has so many people on board during their first official event speaks volumes,” Stevenson-Mathews said.
Di Angelo hopes to continue to grow the organization this year. Along with her toy drive and charity work in Argentina and El Salvador, she hopes to hold back-to-school supply drives for local children, and to raise enough money to provide relief aid to other countries in the event of natural disasters like Hurricane Maria. She also wants to use her fundraisers to spread Argentine culture and unite communities.
“Ten years from now,” Di Angelo said, “I want to say that we kept doing bigger and better things.”