Piano music filled the sanctuary last Saturday during a Toys for Tots charity event, held at All Soul’s Chapel on the St. Michael’s Cemetery grounds in East Elmhurst.
“Whatever fits the mood of the room,” said Hank Johnson, a jazz pianist from Brooklyn, after his performance.
Johnson blended traditional Christmas songs with jazz standards, as residents arrived to donate gifts such as Barbie dolls, drawing supplies, toy trucks, action figures and board games.
“I’ve been playing for quite a few years,” he added with a smile.
For the third consecutive year, St. Michael’s Cemetery hosted Toys for Tots to help those less fortunate during the holiday season.
“The first year was kind of slow but last year we collected something like 685 toys. This year we have about $1,000 already collected, and a whole bunch of toys,” said Ed Horn, the St. Michael’s Cemetery spokesman.
The nationwide toy drive, which is organized by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, requests unwrapped gifts for children, which are then distributed in the community.
“[Charity officials] take [the toys] to a collection center, they get requests from different organizations, and they send out Marines, I understand, in truckloads with toys and hand them out to different community groups there, that required them for children who are deprived,” Horn said.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, this outreach from caring residents could not have come at a better time.
“That was the idea this year more than anything else,” Horn said, who is a former Marine himself.
Costa Constantinides, an activist and Astoria resident running for City Council next fall, seconded this sentiment.
“We know these gifts are going to kids that were affected by Sandy,” said Constantinides, who’s supported Horn and this toy drive for the second year in a row. “Even though we’re on different sides of the borough, they’re our neighbors: kids in the Rockaways, kids in Howard Beach, kids in Breezy Point.”
Will Dionisio, owner of Astoria’s Atomic Fuel Oil Company, also showed his support to the cause and dropped off toys.
“There is no greater gift than the gift of joy when giving a toy to a needy child for Christmas day,” said Dionisio, whose company has donated to Toys for Tots on six separate occasions.
In addition to gifts, monetary donations were also collected for the needy.
Henry Gutterman, of Gutterman Funeral in Manhattan, was on hand to present checks totaling $750 for Toys for Tots, on behalf of various Queens chapters of the fraternal organization Knights of Pythias.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) sent a check for $200, which was announced by Horn during a brief presentation at the chapel gathering.
Though the Marines were unexpectedly unable to show up at the event this year, the toy drive was a successful one, something that Horn and St. Michael’s Cemetery plan on continuing, with support from the community already lined up.
“As long as I’m living in Astoria and [Horn’s] working on something like this, I’m gonna be there with him,” Constantinides added.