CAMDEN, N.J. — In a long room off of the recreation area of the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, with interior windows covered with fire engine red brick patterned paper, sit piles of toys sorted by age and interest.
“Welcome to our secret room,” Boys and Girls Club of Camden County CEO Bernadette Shanahan said with a knowing smile as she unlocked the door.
Inside, heaped upon tables and chairs, lay footballs and basketballs and soccer balls; baby dolls and Barbie dolls and Frozen dolls; monster trucks and Tonka trucks and fire trucks. All of the toys are proceeds from the 20th annual Toy Truck Parade that was held on Saturday, December 7 in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
“People just bring their trucks all decorated,” Shanahan said. “All kinds of trucks: tow trucks, pickup trucks, ambulances, military vehicles — all decorated with themes like the Grinch or Batman Lego. Then people fill the trucks with toys.”
The annual parade, hosted by Philadelphia radio station WXTU-FM 92.5, collects unwrapped toys along the parade route that benefit The United Service Organization (USO) and The Boys and Girls Clubs of Camden County.
“Since the radio station has their annual concert event at BB&T Pavilion, they were interested in Camden for giving back,” Shanahan said.
A United States military serviceman and his family served as the parade’s official Grand Marshall, according to the radio station. The parade ended at the Montgomery Mall where members of the Armed Services and the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County helped build the mountain of toys while high school students were singing Christmas carols.
The Boys and Girls Club, which is one of 21 clubs across New Jersey, runs many activities for youth including educational, mentoring, and music program. They also run a daily after school program that includes recreation as well as homework help.
“And we have our Youth of the Year program,” Shanahan said. “It’s an ongoing process where nominees must prepare three essays and a three minute speech.”
The club with just under 1,000 registered members of children ages 6 to 12 along with teenagers, calls the Youth of the Year program its “signature effort to foster a new generation of leaders, fully prepared to live and lead in a diverse, global and integrated world economy,” according to the organization’s website.
“This year we have five competitors,” Shanahan said. “The winner gets a $2,000 scholarship and then goes on to a regional competition.”
Distribution of the donated toys will take place at the club’s annual Holiday Party.
“The toys will go to club members at the party,” Shanahan said. “Our staff will serve as elves to had out party bags with toys to the kids.”
The club has five full time and 22 part time staff with the aid of ten regular volunteers and 20 volunteer board members.
“We also get larger groups of volunteers who will come in for special projects,” Shanahan said.
For more information on how to volunteer or donate to the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County, visit their website at https://begreatcamden.org/.