on December 12, 2012 at 11:37 AM, updated December 12, 2012 at 12:05 PM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - GREAT KILLS - While the empty storefront in Great Kills didn't look like much just a week ago, it's recently been transformed from a vacant space into a toy distribution hub, where Staten Islanders affected by Hurricane Sandy can come and pick out holiday gifts.
"We wanted to set up a place for families that don't have anything right now," said Dennis McKeon, whose Where To Turn organization helped set up the impromptu toy store along with help from state Sen. Andrew Lanza. "This is something that could hopefully put a smile on people's faces when the holidays come around."
The center – located at 3948 Amboy Rd. – will be open seven days a week from noon to 7 p.m. until Christmas Eve.
Families are allowed to pick out two toys per child, and must show a photo ID with proof of address, as well as their FEMA number to qualify.
"I didn't want to just have some one-day event for these people. I want to open a store where different people can come every day and get some help," McKeon said.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726 donated the space after McKeon reached out to a few of his bus-driver friends. Union President Daniel Cassella said that he was more than happy to lend the building, noting that some 35 bus drivers lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy.
"Anything we could do to help the community, we're going to do," he said.
And on Friday, volunteers from the ATU, Senator Lanza's office and Community Board 3 all pitched in to spruce up the bare, sheet rock walls with decorations and shelves to hold the nearly 2,500 toys donated during the past few weeks – mostly children's toys such as stuffed animals, board games, Barbies, soccer balls and varying crafts.
"This is absolutely necessary," said Charlene Wagner, Community Board 3's district manager. "This is just one less thing these people will have to worry about. It will give them more time to rebuild their lives."
The South Shore-based community board has decorated its Rossville storefront to spread holiday cheer and encourage folks to donate toys to the location. The toys are then sent to the Great Kills site.
McKeon, a member of CB3, called the newest toy "store" a great thing, but more needs to be done.
"We need more toys, because we never know how many people are going to show up. We have some showing up, but we could always use more," he said.
For more information on how to donate, or volunteer, call McKeon at 718-966-6531.
CB3's office is located at 655-218 Rossville Ave. in the Woodrow Shopping Plaza. For more information on the board, call 718-356-7900 or visit its Web site at www.nyc.gov/sicb3.