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LYNN — A group of Lynn teenagers are spearheading a holiday drive that aims to provide needy families with toys and gift cards this Christmas.
The teens are part of the Shannon Collaborative Youth Crew, which works with at-risk students and young adults.
“The goal is to take them off the streets and prevent them from getting deeper into any sort of trouble,” said Angelica Marte, a youth support specialist for Family & Children’s Services, a community-based nonprofit that supports underserved and socially vulnerable populations.
Marte said Family & Children’s Services has been working with the Shannon Collaborative youth who are running the holiday drive for about a year. The teenagers come into the program as moderate- or high-risk youth and are provided with assistance aimed at setting them up for success, such as help with getting a job or driver’s license, she said.
“The whole point of this program is to try to get them away from all of the things that could hinder them from moving forward,” said Marte.
As part of the program, Lynn youth are required to engage in a civic engagement component. Last year, the teenagers raised enough donations to create 150 “goodie bags” for the homeless, but decided to shift their focus this year to helping children and families, Marte said.
“I am working with a group of nine youth and this is completely led by them,” said Marte. “They made the decision that they wanted to do a raffle to collect enough money to get 100 turkeys.”
However, Marte said the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on those plans, which resulted in the teens deciding to use the funds from the raffle to purchase $20 gift cards, which families can use to buy their own turkeys for the holiday.
In addition, the youth decided they wanted to do something that would directly benefit children this Christmas, which resulted in their idea for a toy drive, said Marte, explaining that Family & Children’s Services helped them reach out to the other community organizations and create a flyer for the initiative.
“Their goal is to get enough toys so they can give back to as many people and as many kids as possible,” said Marte. “They know that it has been a tough year and they themselves have felt how difficult this year has been, so they want to turn around and do something good for the community.”
The effort kicked off on Nov. 16 and the goal is to provide 100 toys and gift cards to children and families supported by Centerboard during the week of Christmas, Marte said.
“I want to do the toy drive because I know that during these times, people are losing jobs (and) kids aren’t getting everything they need,” said Evan Ruiz, 16, of Lynn. “Not everyone in the city is as fortunate as others, which is why I want to give back to the community.
“I live in this community. I see the people in my community where I grew in and call home struggle. We are already in bad times. We can help by spreading positivity and love. We can help by giving back to our community.”
Ximena Aleman, 16, of Lynn, added, “I want to do the toy drive because I don’t want kids feeling left out this Christmas. This year has been chaotic and depressing.
“I want those kids to wake up on Christmas morning with a smile on their faces. I just want them to be happy for a moment since this year has been really awful. I also want to help the city because I grew up here. I want to see everyone come together and be happy. This city deserves so much more and I’ll do anything for my city to get what it needs,” said Aleman.
Drop-off locations for the toy drive include Family & Children’s Services, 111 N Common St., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; LYSOA, 312 Union St., from 1-4 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 1-6 p.m. on Wednesday; the Lynn YMCA, 20 Neptune Blvd.; and the Daily Item, 110 Munroe St.
In lieu of toys, donations can also be made at http://weblink.donorperfect.com/shannonholidayraffle.