Toys Covered; Now Warm Coats Needed
by Allan Appel | Dec 16, 2013 4:09 pm
A half dozen medieval castles. Same number of Squinkies. At least ten Monopoly games. Ten or so Moxie Girlz Bubble Bath Surprise.
In all, some 1,500 toys were donated for needy children Monday.
That record-setting contribution by a single benevolent guy, Joseph Rodriguez, who owns and manages the McDonalds on Whalley Avenue, is the high point so far of the ongoing toy and winter clothing drive conducted by the Mae Ola Riddick (MOR) memorial organization.
The drive is in honor of Riddick, the Dixwell activist who ran it for more than 30 years. When she died in September, Mae Ola’s “children,” as her many proteges refer to themselves, vowed to carry on and expand her charity work.
And they have. They ran a successful turkey drive at Thanksgiving. That gave them a database and a way of tracking area families in need. They’re now putting that to use in rounding up toys and coats for the needy in time for Christmas.
When the coats and toys are distributed on Dec. 22 at the Dixwell police substation on Charles Street, which was Mae Ola’s informal headquarters, the group plans to move on to offering scholarships, mentoring, and training, said Metashar Dillon, one of the lead organizers.
On Monday morning Riddick’s signature toy and coat drive featured the largest single donor in the history of the effort.
Normally businesses or churches offer themselves as collection points for toys and coats. Rodriguez, who owns five McDonalds restaurants in Connecticut, just went out, rented a truck, and bought 1,500 toys from Walmart.
The father of two boys and three girls, this man knows how to shop for kids.
His philanthropy began in the Bronx in the 1980s giving out toys for Three Kings Day. After Monday’s event, he was off to do similar magic for kids at the Ronald McDonald House, and later in the week the Teen Challenge.
One Man, 1,500 Toys, Reality Check
Rodriguez and the MOR organizers said their sense is the need is greater than ever this year, with many people signing up for the drive who have recently lost their jobs.
Rodriguez said that no matter what the economy, he always provides turkeys and more for his many staffers at his franchises throughout the state. He also visits with customers there to take the temperature of the times.
“We’re just getting by,” he said. Despite those conditions, year in and year out, Rodriguez said he provides because the joy created, even if it’s only temporary, is important.
His generosity has a spiritual basis, he said. “I serve a good god. He has blessed me, so I am expected to bless others,” Rodriguez said, as Dixwell top cop Sgt. Sam Brown pulled a van around the side of the store to begin to load the toy cargo bound for the substation.
“It gives me joy to give all this away,” he said with a face beaming in the light slanting in through the store’s front windows.
“[This] takes it to another level,” said Dillon of Rodriguez’s generosity.
“Most people collect, this man puts his hand into his own pocket,” said police Lt. Patricia Helliger, another of the lead organizers.
Winter Wear Wanted
With so many toys in hand, the push now is for winter coats, hats, and gloves for kids up to age 12, said Helliger.
Collections will take place at the following locations up to 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20:
• New Haven Police Department
All substations, and
1 Union Avenue,
New Haven, CT
• Executive Touch Salon
1600 Southeast Road
• California Hair Designs
1222 Dixwell Avenue
• Yale University Police Headquarters
101 Ashmun St.
New Haven, CT
• Southern Connecticut State University Police
501 Crescent St.
New Haven, CT