Danbury’s bravest collect toys for agency’s neediest

Members of the Danbury Volunteer Fire Council and its 12 volunteer fire companies emptied truck after truck Saturday filled with toys for kids served by Family & Children’s Aid.

The firefighters, many of them wearing Santa hats, unloaded the toys bucket-brigade style. There were basketballs and dolls, building blocks and stuffed animals, every toy imaginable for kids on Santa’s list.

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“This is a wonderful, wonderful testament to how this community pulls together — all the time — for everything,” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. “Thanks to you, we’re going to make some of these folks a little happier.”

Gene Eriquez, a Family & Children’s Aid Foundation board member and a former Danbury mayor, shared similar thoughts saluting the men and women who spent a month collecting toys outside Toys ‘R’ Us on Backus Avenue.

“You’re representative of the Danbury spirit, the holiday spirit,” Eriquez said. “You’re going to make a profound difference in the lives of children and their families.”

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The toys were brought into Family & Children’s Aid on West Street and spread over two long rows of tables at Playmakers Village, a Disney-like collection of storefronts where kids go to learn, heal and have fun in a safe, nurturing environment.

The community toy drive was organized by Jennifer Ortega and Peter Hornik of the Danbury Volunteer Fire Council.

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Downstairs, Family & Children’s Aid officials gave tours of the new Harmony Station, an incredibly detailed replica of a New York City subway stop. The tile work, the signs, the sounds pumped into the car, everything fed the imagination and the soul, just like Family & Children’s Aid.

“If you’re a 14-year-old kid and you’re mad at the world, mad at life, this is such a good place for you to come,” said Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, a member of the Family & Children’s Aid Board of Directors. “The work they do here is amazing.”

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Each year, Family & Children’s Aid helps about 5,000 clients improve their emotional and mental health. The non-profit agency was one of the first to help those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December 2012.

Brian Koonz