Santa Claus made an appearance at a recent Toys For Tots charity event here, but he couldn't take credit for the 4-foot by 4-foot box filled to the brim with brand new toys for local kids.
That was the work of the Gloucester Township Youth Lacrosse organization, and of the residents who took a break from the frenzy of post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping to give back to their community.
Held at the Gloucester Township Recreation Center two days after Thanksgiving, the Holiday Lacrosse event charged an "admission" of one new, unwrapped toy to enjoy an evening of lacrosse competition. The charity games featured Gloucester Township's G.T. Hawks fifth/sixth grade and seventh/eighth grade teams, as well as adult players from the 2010 Fann Cup Championship Team and the Philadelphia Indoor Lacrosse League. Players came from all areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and even New York.
"With everything being so tough financially right now, a lot of families are in positions we haven't seen in a long time," said John Barrett, co-founder of Gloucester Township Youth Lacrosse and organizer of the event. "But it's not right that a kid should be without a toy at the holidays."
Attendees filed into the recreation center bearing donations, and began filling the large box with games and toys for every age group, gender and recreational interest. As the event progressed, the box grew fuller and fuller, until finally it took two adults to store it.
In total, the event brought in more than 250 toys, surpassing the team's goal of 200 donations. The toys will be donated to children in Gloucester Township as part of Mayor David Mayer's Toys For Tots campaign. In addition, event sponsors Dick's Sporting Goods and Universal Lacrosse, of Marlton, gave matching funds donations of $1 per toy.
Barrett, himself a lacrosse player for the Fann Cup team as well as other organizations, said he got the idea to organize a charity game after playing in a fundraising event to support a domestic violence charity.
"I was just impressed by how people came from all over the place to support this domestic violence charity," he said. "I was impressed by how people showed up."
He said he believes teaching a sense of community and civic responsibility is part of the purpose of a youth sports club.
"I want the kids to have a sense of citizenship, and to give back to the community," he said. "That's part of us having this club here in Gloucester Township."
After being transported by the public works department to the mayor's office, the 250-plus toys will be distributed to local children starting Dec. 13.
Barrett said he hopes next year, the team can surpass this year's earnings and meet a goal of between 300 and 350 toys.
"I want us to have a few more hours, a few more games, a few more toys," he said. "I think this is going to be our new pet project."
Donations are now being accepted for the mayor's Toys For Tots campaign. For more information, call (856) 228-4000 ext. 249.