NEW BRITAIN - McDonaldâs in New Brite Plaza hosted its second annual Gifts of Joys Community Drive on Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. to help bring happiness and holiday cheer to those in need.
âI was always taught when I started with McDonaldâs that you have to give back to your community,â said Keith Santacroce, owner/operator of McDonaldâs in New Brite Plaza. âTo know a kid is not going to have a Christmas or a meal I decided this was something that we would be doing every year.â
Members of both the Gift a Child program at Opportunities Industrialization Center of New Britain and the Adopt A Child program at the Friendship Service Center, gathered at 40 Martin Luther King Drive for a night of food and gift opening.
âI think this event is awesome,â said Patrice Hill, OICâs youth project coordinator. âThis is the second year with our OIC youth participating and itâs just so overwhelming to the happy faces like the parents are happy when the kids are chosen when they find out and the kids are overjoyed. Some of them are not getting much for Christmas because the parents are having a hard time so this makes a world of a difference to all of them. I wish we could do this for all of them in the program.â
Red bags full of items filled the room, all of which were labeled with the recipientâs name in it.
âI like this a lot. Itâs very personal with all the names on the gift bags,â said Kathleen Juliano, a member of the Friendship Service Center whose son received a gift bag. âThis means a lot; with our situation it was very discouraging like âOh crap, I canât do anything for my kids for Christmas; itâs not going to feel like Christmas,â but Adrian has a way of coming through and making it feel happy. Iâm very grateful.â
A loud eruption of glee filled the room as each child found the bag with their name in it and opened it up.
âThis was lit, it was fun,â exclaimed Elidan Navarro, a member of OIC and Friendship Service Center. âI got some animals and Iâm deeply in love with those.â
As if things couldnât get any more cheerful the kids were presented with a free meal gift card to enjoy a complimentary hot meal during the event.
âI thought last year our first year doing it that I would present them with a free hot meal not knowing their food situation so I did it this year too, and I upped the anti and gave them all gift cards for a future meal,â said Santacroce.
Everyone instantly dropped their gifts at their tables and rushed over to the line for something to eat whispering to one another what they were going to order.
âWhat we tried to do is get something the kids have been talking about and wished for,â said Adrian Elliott, communications associate at the Friendship Service Center. âThe case managers asked the kids to put three things on a wish list so I got the list and we tried to match the things as close to it as possible.â
Boxes were also set up at McDonaldâs, OIC and the Downtown District and they were able to collect a ton of toys and some clothing items for 24 kids in need.
DJ Meechie from WZMX (Hot 93.7) dropped off coats from the stationâs coat drive, and Bobâs Discount Furniture in Southington gave three of the children the top items from their dream wish list.
Ky-mani Clark received headphones for an iPhone 6, an iPhone case and a basketball; Triston Lowe received a Beyblade Set, a Spiderman skateboard and a Lego set; and Tyrigue Hill received a basketball, a Pokemon Letâs Go video game and a football.
Santacroce has been doing business in New Britain since 1981 and donating to local events for the chamber of commerce, Oak Street project, the all-night graduation party at New Britain High School, Hoops for the Homeless and more.
âAnytime somebody knocks on the door, I try to help whenever asked upon,â said Santacroce.