Bad economy equals sad holidays for many Long Islanders

Toys of Hope in Huntington needs help to help the needyHUNTINGTON – Many Long Islanders say the bad economy, lack of jobs, and high taxes are taking the holiday spirit out of Long Island. As the calendar edges closer to the Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year holidays charity organizations throughout the island are calling out for help.

Thanksgiving prompted major appeals from Long Island charities. Island Harvest, reported that it had too little food or supplies for the numbers seeking help.

The Huntington-based, Toys of Hope, serves families from “Montauk to Manhattan.”  In the weeks before Christmas they had already run out of supplies.

Since 1994, Toys of Hope President and founder Melissa Doktofsky has helped many families across the area. “The most humbling thing is to see my once donors become my recipients,” says Doktofsky. She says her mission each year is to remind everyone no donation is too small.

The Toys of Hope facilities are stocked with the kind of items you would expect. Toys fill shelves up and down many aisles but there is toothpaste, shampoo, cleaning supplies, shoes, Halloween costumes, a hot water maker, Easter baskets and much more.

“We’re very low on supplies right now because donations have been getting low and we’re getting thousands of calls every week,” says 12-year-old Jared Zimmer of  “Children for Change,” a charity that he co-founded with his twin sister Katie.  “Children for Change” is an arm of Toys of Hope that is geared at mobilizing young people.

The Zimmers thought they were helplesss because of their age.  But the twins have managed to encourage their classmates to aid in their quest to help people less fortunate then they are. “Some people don’t know how lucky they are to have the basic necessities that we have today,” says Zimmer.

Toys of Hope might be a small foundation, but the effect they have on the people they help is priceless. Most of the organization’s work is anonymous. Doktofsky’s colleagues say she will gather clothing and other goods for people she spots living in their cars or on the streets and just drop off a box and walk away. As one put it, “she has a big heart.”

With the recent spike in bed bugs many charities are asking for new clothes rather than used.

Yet, this was a Toys of Hope policy prior to the recent headlines. “We all feel every kid deserves a new coat,” says Operations Director Brian Hansen. “The pride they receive from something new without a rip or stain and knowing that this coat is theirs is special,” he says.

Long Island’s local governments are seeing an increase in people asking for help this year. In Hempstead, a 20-year tradition is the affordable homes lottery.  The town’s program gives winners the opportunity to purchase a brand new home for a major discount of the actual price.

“It’s absolutely great, this year has really been a tough year for me and it’s really just a blessing. I don’t see another way without the affordable homes program, especially in Nassau County,” said Shadeen Graham one of the lottery winners. This year, Hempstead gave six winners a home.

Supervisor Kate Murray calls this a special event since the town is giving an “opportunity to a family who would otherwise not be able to buy into our real estate market and even with our real estate market depressed these days it is hard.”  Murray admits this is her “favorite tradition as supervisor”.

Hempstead has built 250 affordable homes under this project during the last 20 years. The projects not only provide a new home to the winner but also provide jobs to Long Island contractors.

“It’s been very rough, I had savings and just having to pay such substantial heating costs because the house is not adequate and you have drafts and your kids are constantly getting colds,” said winner Tonya Jones.

Jones admits watching her own children suffer made her feel like a bad parent but this year she had her faith. People in the room asked her what her secret was, did she have any good luck charm? “God!,” she said. “He’s always with me.”

The interactive map shows some of the many charities that need help this holiday season on Long Island.