There seems to be a Toys for Tots drive almost every day this time of year.
But Laura Prince Vom Vos of East Islip had been wondering about older kids in need — the tweens and teens — and what they might be getting each Christmas.
Quite sadly, the answer is often nothing much.
“And they’re just expected to understand,” she said of the kids. “So I wanted to do something where Toys for Tots left off.”
And so she did, keeping in mind how much it meant to her as a girl growing up in East Islip, when, at times, her family needed help from local churches around the holidays.
It was 2009 when Vom Vos first started calling middle and high schools in the area, seeking the names of down-on-their-luck families to help for the holidays.
Eight years later, this Monday, nearly 800 gifts filled up Meg Smith & Associates Real Estate in Bay Shore, where Vom Vos serves as a licensed associate broker.
It was also present pickup day at the real estate office, where for about a month the team shifts much of its energies to collecting, purchasing and wrapping toys for Tidings for Tweens and Teens.
For this year’s drive, volunteers adopted 168 children from 57 families. Each child gets $100 worth of gifts, which is supposed to amount to four gifts each.
The children in need are referred to them from schools, churches and social workers.
Each year, Tidings for Tweens and Teens kicks off with an adoption event, which is followed by a shopping day — using an always generous donation from the Bay Shore Lions Club — then a wrapping party, and lastly, the pickup day where parents will come by the office.
There at the corner office on West Main Street, they’ll find a stack of gifts, wrapped in a bow, with their child’s name on them.
As Vom Vos tells it, the recipients are appreciative, but at the same time usually a bit embarassed.
Still, many will stay for some coffee and cake or cookies — and a chat.
“At first we pictured it like a bit of a party day [the present pickup day], but it’s not a party at all,” said Meg Smith, the owner and a licensed broker at Meg Smith & Associates, who’s been involved with the effort all eight years. “People come in and some will sit and it’s very reflective and somber.”
“But in the end they are so thankful, and it does make everybody’s holiday.”
Vom Vos — who has seven kids herself — said the hardest part is learning more about the gift recipients in person, and how much their needs go so far beyond presents for Christmas morning.
“That’s the hard part,” Vom Vos said, choking back tears. “There’s things that you can’t help them with, and that kind of stinks.
“And these are the type of people that wouldn’t normally ask for help.”
Top: (L-R) Realtor Alison Rotella, Laura Prince Vom Vos, and Meg Smith at the Meg Smith and Associates Real Estate office on West Main Street in Bay Shore on Monday. (Credit: Michael White)