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North Shore elected officials take part in Toys for Tots

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John Zozzaro, the owner of Glen Cove’s Downtown Café, has been hosting a Toys for Tots box for years. This holiday season, with the Covid-19 financial crisis impacting families across Long Island, he said that ensuring every child has a special Christmas morning is especially important to him. 

“A long time ago I was presented with [a Toys for Tots box] and I said sure, why not,” he  said. “A lot of customers from Downtown Café came and brought a lot of presents.”

Among those who dropped a toy off was State Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine. He makes it a point every year to donate toys, he said.

The pandemic forced Lavine to cancel his annual toy drive this year. But last year’s drive was so successful that after toys were delivered to those in need people continued to donate more toys, even after the holidays.

“We had a number of wonderful toys sitting in our office,” Lavine said, “and it was only right that we helped to distribute them this year to those kids that are in need.”

Every child should experience the joy of receiving a gift, he said, adding that he is  thankful to not only Toys for Tots for making that possible for children all across the nation, but also for Downtown Café for taking the initiative to collect toys.

Zozzaro said he appreciated Lavine stopping by, helping to fill the box with toys. “I’ve always said it’s better to give then receive,” Zozzaro said. “You get more satisfaction out of it.”

Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps since 1947, distributes toys to families in need. According to Toys for Tot’s website, local campaigns are conducted in over 800 communities covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Nassau County Toys for Tots campaign is based in Garden City, run by Gunnery Sergeant John Sardine. Last year, 221,351 toys were distributed and 219,000 children were supported.

“Toys for Tots is very well established and for many, many years for decades, has been a source for joy not only for those who receive the toys,” Lavine said, “but for those of us fortunate enough to be able to donate and contribute the toys.”

Lavine said he is hoping to bring light and joy to families this holiday season, even as many are suffering physically, financially and emotionally.

“We’re all facing heartbreak and every day those of us who are more fortunate owe it not only to our friends, family and neighbors who are less fortunate, but to our own selves to be as generous and as helpful as possible,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get through this.”

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton shares the same spirit as Lavine. She helps host a massive Toys for Tots drive, organized by Joe Mac LaPadula of Martino Auto Concepts, in the parking lot of Nassau Coliseum in Garden City. DeRiggi-Whitton said she did not expect to see cars upon cars lining up all the way to Hempstead Turnpike to donate toys that would fill up multiple trucks. Photographer Peter M. Budraitis, who captured photos for the legislator, said on Facebook that he had never seen so many toys in one place.

“We had to get special permission from the governor this year with Covid being an issue,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “We had strict criteria that we had to follow regarding masks and the number of people that were volunteering. We had to lower that number substantially and everyone abided and I was happy about that.”

Nassau Coliseum were also very gracious in allowing the parking lot to be used as a massive toy drop location, DeRiggi-Whitton said.

“We normally collect 50,000 toys and this year we collected over 100,000,” DeRiggi-Whitton said of the annual toy drive in its 10th year. “People were so generous. It really was beautiful to see.”

People from as far away as Philadelphia and New Jersey came out to support the cause, DeRiggi-Whitton said. But what really stood out to the county legislator was a man who pulled up to offer a matchbox car. “He said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t have any money but I want to give you this,’” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “A lot of people know that they’re lucky to be okay during this time and they see that there are a lot of families that are really struggling. They want to make sure the kids have a good Christmas.”