Willows neighbors embark on ambitious toy drive for 2,500 kids in the Ravenswood school district

by Chrisie Wendin on December 4, 2018

10 days. 400 blankets for homeless families. 2,500 gifts for low-income kids. And 100 volunteers to pull it all off. That’s what’s top of mind for Willows resident Dana Shields and her neighbors.

The children in the Ravenswood City School District (RCSD) are close to her heart. For six years, Dana has volunteered in RCSD via All Students Matter as a STEAM and Design teacher. (Shields is also an artist and designer whom we’ve profiled before.)

For the past three years, Shields (pictured photo right — red jacket, front row) has rallied her neighborhood — along with the broader community — to collect the toys needed to provide every child in the district with a special gift. This year, that’s 2,500 students, down 500 from 2017 due to declining enrollment (that’s a function of the high cost of living).

“We all talk about how expensive it is here, but what often surprises people when I talk about where I teach is just how many kids are homeless,” says Dana. “That doesn’t mean they’re living on the streets; they might be in cars, RVs, shelters, or squeezed into a small two bedroom apartment with multiple families. They don’t have a lot, and that’s why it means so much to me to give them each a little joy each holiday season.”

According to the district’s latest figures, some 44% of students are classified as homeless and 89% as low-income. The homeless factor is one reason why Dana and team are adding fleece blankets to the drive.

While Dana may be the heart and soul of the effort, she’s quick to point out how it really does take a village. “Every year I’ve been blown away by how generous people are and how much they want to help. Not only do they donate thousands of gifts, but they also set up and volunteer at the holiday party. It’s a huge job, and this year we have a super short window. But I’m confident our community will come through as they have each year.”

How you can help

Between now and December 14, the organizing group needs to collect 2,500 toys and gift cards, as well as 400 fleece blankets. They also need to recruit more than 100 volunteers to run the event on Saturday, December 15 at Costaño School in East Palo Alto.

Here are five ways you can get involved:

1. Purchase and drop off unwrapped toys, gifts, and fleece blankets to 1231 Woodland Ave, Menlo Park. See gift ideas below. (Leave on porch, in a plastic bag if it’s raining.)

2. Buy gifts online and have sent directly to Dana Shields, 1231 Woodland Ave, Menlo Park, CA 94025.

3. Volunteer, Friday, December 14, in the morning to load up the toys, or from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, to help us organize gifts and prep for the holiday party. Families are welcome to volunteer together, but please no children younger than middle school age. Sign up here. 4. Volunteer, Saturday, December 15, from 7am to 4pm, to set up, pass out gifts, escort families. (Please no children younger than middle school age.) Sign up for a shift here.

5. Donate funds that can be use to purchase gift cards and toys. Contact RavenswoodToys2018@gmail.com or 209-730-0535 for PayPal, Venmo, or other details.

Gift ideas

Choose your favorites or consider these popular items from last year:

• Fleece blankets

• All ages: soccer balls, basketballs, footballs, soccer backpacks, scooters, skateboards warm hats, cute throw pillows, cute sleeping bags, toy slime

• Preschool to Grade 2: dolls, cars, legos, stuffed animals

• Grades 3 to 5: legos, remote-control cars, stuffed animals

• Grades 6 to 8: $20 gift cards to retailers within walking distance to home and school: Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Target, Baskin Robins, Taco Bell, Togos, iTunes

Questions or ideas? Contact RavenswoodToys2018@gmail.com or call/text 209-730-0535.

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