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Partnership For Strong Families Hosts Holiday Toy Drive

A pile of donated presents sits at Northwest Baptist Church waiting to be distributed by Partnership for Strong Families to children who were victims of abuse.
A pile of donated presents sits at Northwest Baptist Church waiting to be distributed by Partnership for Strong Families to children who were victims of abuse.

A local organization held a holiday toy drive to benefit children victimized by abuse or neglect in Gainesville Wednesday.

The Partnership for Strong Families, an organization that covers 13 counties in Florida, held the drive to provide gifts for over 1,000 disadvantaged children in Alachua County. The drive will run until Friday.

These children range from newborns to 18-year-olds, said Jenn Petion, director of communications and government relations for Partnership for Strong Families.

Each child will receive three to five presents, making the overall total of presents donated over 5,000.

Petion and a few other volunteers spent 14 hours receiving and wrapping presents Tuesday.

The children who benefit from this drive are those who have an open case with the organization. These children are reported to be living in homes with unsafe environments and are either being monitored by a case worker from Partnership for Strong Families or have been put in foster care.

The toy drive was held at Northwest Baptist Church next to Buchholz High School and received its donations from community sponsors, said Petion.

“We don’t use a single state dollar,” she said of all the gifts tallied, totaling over $90,000.

Some of the largest sponsors include Santa Fe College, several University of Florida departments, James Moore Financial, Greenhouse Church, the VA Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center.

The program does not operate like typical holiday donation drives where patrons drop off gifts. Instead, caseworkers take the top three gift wishes from each child and submit a list to donors who then get the presents each child specifically wants.

However, not all contributions are from large donors. There are many members of the community who sponsor one or two childs' gifts for the holiday season.

Julie Szydlowski and her family adopted two children this year, an 11-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl.

She said she loves what Partnership for Strong Families is doing in her community and that her donations will go straight into the hands of these children.

“We’re so happy to be able to help,” she said.

This is Szydlowski’s second year participating in the holiday toy drive, and she plans to continue for as long as it is held.

She has two children of her own and uses them as a starting point on what to buy for the two children she is sponsoring.

She purchased a remote control car, a skateboard, a hanging-door basketball hoop and sneakers for the young boy. For the baby girl, she bought educational toys, plush stuffed animals, books and little dresses.

Szydlowski and her family plan to adopt a child out of foster care one day, but until then she is happy helping the children through Partnership for Strong Families.

“There’s so many people in this tiny little town of ours who just need a little bit.”

Cassidy is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.