Today: Jun 16, 2024

‘Friends of Rudolph’ drive brings joy

photo courtesy Monica Szakcas
Children also met with Santa Claus and received a gift from one of the thousands of new gifts that were donated


Hundreds of children walked around and colored pictures of Frosty the Snowman, sang Christmas carols and took pictures with Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Frosty during the annual “Friends of Rudolph” toy drive. But the most rewarding part of the day is when the children met Santa Claus and received a new gift they asked for.

“The best part of all is when I got the Brat Doll,” said the 5-year-old Talea Turnage, “Santa was really nice to me.”

The New Haven Police Department began collecting donated, new toys to hand out to the community in 1994 for a holiday show they held in the Lincoln Theatre. Every year after the inaugural event, the amount of toys donated kept growing, resulting in increased attendance, according to Patrick Redding, New Haven assistant police chief.

“First we started with about 300 toys and then it went up to 1,000, so we needed a larger space to do it in.,” said Redding. “The Lincoln Theatre could only hold 250 people, so we did two to three shows a day.”

Photo courtesy Monica Szakacs
During the “Friends of Rudolph” toy drive event, about 1,000 people showed up to take photos with Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman

Redding said the New Haven Police Department contacted Denise Bentley- Drobish, S C S U director of Student Life, to see if the holiday show could be held on campus in the Lyman Center. In 1997 the collaboration of SCSU and the New Haven Police Department brought the “Friends of Rudolph” toy drive to the surrounding community.

“The best part that came out of this program is there are some kids from the community that used to come and get toys, and years later they attend Southern and distribute the toys,” said Redding. “So we have come full circle.”

Melissa Deroche, residence hall association member, said there were four sets of busses throughout the day, four busses in each set, for a total of 16 groups all together, which equals out to about 1,000 people.

“Anyone could have donated new toys,” said Deroche, who is also an elementary education and Spanish major, “I just like to see Southern helping the community and I feel like it’s a good way to give back, because so many people benefit—especially around the holidays.”

The major contributors that donated and collected toys are SCSU Student Government Association, Christopher Martin’s Road Race, Yale New Haven Hospital, Metro North and the New Haven Police Department among other organizations.

Starting the day after the toy drive, Redding said his office phone blows up with calls from the community. Usually there are toys left over so people can call in and come pick up toys for their children up until Christmas, or until the toys run out.

“I take advantage of being a police officer and say give me 10,000 toys and they trust me to give it out to the community,” said Redding.

“It’s a great program; a lot of hard work goes into behind the scenes with many volunteers on campus,” said Redding. “I absolutely enjoy seeing the smiles on their [kids] faces to get a gift and toy. For many of them, it’s their only gift they will receive otherwise.”

Alfreda Edwards said she brings a group of children from the Newhallville neighborhood for about 15 years. According to Edwards, people from the community call to find out when the drive will be and she creates fliers to hand out around the neighborhood.

“Some kids don’t get presents,” said Edwards. “I think it’s a wonderful co-sponsored event with great community effort and it’s really appreciated from the community. No kids are turned down and with this economy, it’s wonderful to see people still donating new toys.”

Askari Hussain, a 5-year-old who was with Edwards, said he received a soccer ball from Santa and his helpers. Soccer is his favorite sport and said when he grows up he wants to play professionally.

“We stopped playing because the weather got bad, but we will start next year,” said Hussain. “Getting the soccer ball was my favorite part, and arts and crafts.”

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