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second chance toysOne afternoon eight years ago Sasha Lipton, then 16 years old, was driving around her New Jersey town with her mom when she noticed something upsetting: Plastic toys that looked almost new were heaped on curbs alongside bags of trash, destined for the dump.

“I knew there were less fortunate kids in nearby towns who would really appreciate those toys,” says Lipton, now 24. “I thought it was so sad that they were being thrown away.”

Lipton’s mom, who had always taught her daughter to give back, pulled the car to the side of the road, and the two collected every plastic toy they saw on their way home.

Initially, Lipton worried that her father wouldn’t exactly be thrilled to see the piles of toys she and her mom had picked up and stored in the basement. But when she explained that she wanted to donate them, he immediately offered to help collect more. The family spent the rest of the year hunting for discarded plastic toys, rescuing any they found that were in good condition and adding them to their stash. Lipton gave their new charity a name: Second Chance Toys.

The memory of the day she brought the gently used toys to a domestic violence shelter in the spring of 2007 is one she cherishes. “I’ll never forget the look on the children’s faces when my parents and I arrived at the shelter with toys just for them,” she recalls.

Her good deed didn’t go unnoticed. News of the delivery made it into the local paper, and people started to ask how they could donate.

Lipton decided to continue her mission and began organizing local toy drives. Then came a call from executives at Investors Bank in New Jersey. Would the Liptons allow them to place toy donation bins in the lobbies of their branches? (Absolutely!) At the same time, Lipton started to build relationships with other organizations that serve underprivileged children and their families, including Head Start, The Arc, and Catholic Charities. “Initially, some groups were wary of accepting toys,” she says. “But as soon as they realized that we only donate items that are basically as good as new, they were happy to accept ours.”

When Lipton was ready to start college at Northwestern University, she handed the reins of Second Chance Toys to her parents and filed for nonprofit status. They were able to hire a full-time staffer thanks to funding from Kohl’s, which gave its first grant to the group in 2011.

Since its humble beginnings, Second Chance Toys has collected, cleaned, and donated nearly 200,000 toys to almost 400 nonprofits nationwide, bringing toys to thousands of families while also keeping more than 200,000 cubic feet of plastic out of landfills.

Second Chance Toys now focuses its efforts on holiday and Earth Day drives, providing potential donors with flyers, posters, signage, and press release templates to help promote their collection efforts. “These occasions coincide with times of year when people are often getting rid of toys to make space for new gifts or are simply throwing them out during spring cleaning,” Lipton says.

Today, she sits on the board of the organization while working full-time in marketing. “Eight years ago, I never could have imagined the impact Second Chance Toys would have on the lives of so many kids and on the environment,” she says. “I’m so proud that we continue to expand and inspire others with our mission.”

HOW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

If you have plastic toys to donate to Second Chance Toys, clean each one and make sure nothing is broken or missing. Items shouldn’t be so small that they fit in a toilet paper roll (anything that size is a choking hazard and can’t be accepted by the organization). If the toy requires batteries, please provide them.

If you have just a few toys to donate and are within the organization’s major metropolitan areas—New York City metro, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Boston—visit secondchancetoys.org and click “donate” to find a drop-off location near you.

If you and your neighbors have 50 or more toys to contribute, Second Chance Toys will match you with an organization to donate to—no matter where you live.

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