A holiday toy drive in Morris Park was as sweet as it can be.
On Thursday, December 14, Conti’s Pastry Shoppe glowed and buzzed with more than hundreds of delicious baked goods.
The back of the shop, where a few couches, chairs, and coffee tables are usually set up, was now packed with hundreds of toys and gift cards spilling out from under a tall, glowing and golden Christmas tree.
From soccer balls and snow sleds to action figures and board games, the gifts were gathered specifically for the young patients at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.
It all started with a partnership between Conti’s owners, Sal Paljevic, Christina DiRusso and Senada Paljevic and Electric Paradise tanning salon owner, Michael Poli.
“Chris and I have been at Conti’s for 14 years and 4 years after I bought this place we started discussing a toy drive,” Sal said. “Because it is an extremely busy time of the year for us, we really never got around to doing it.”
“Luckily for us, Mike came around,” Paljevic continued. “He brought it up to me and I told him we’ve been thinking about this for 10 years and he actually orchestrated everything.”
Together, they reached out to friends, family members, social media followers, customers, local representatives and other businesses to help chip into the gifts.
“We offered some discounts on cakes in exchange for donations,” Paljevic added. “Some customers didn’t even take their discounts, they just wanted to drop off gifts, which was nice.”
In just two weeks, an estimated $6,000 worth of toys and gift cards were collected, according to Paljevic and Poli.
Some of the notable contributors to the drive were Barino’s Market, the office of Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and Christopher Daniello from Avie Management and Preservation Inc, according to organizers.
“The outpouring of people who came and helped out was overwhelming. We did not expect all of this,” Christina DiRusso said. “It’s motivating us to do it every year.”
“At the end of the day, this holiday is not just about receiving,” DiRusso added. “It really is about giving.”
Many helping hands came to load the gifts into larger bags and boxes, including Paljevic’s father and some of the staff at Conti’s.
The packages took up an entire delivery van, as well as a large pickup truck.
“I don’t think Montefiore is ready,” said Paljevic. “I don’t think they know how many gifts we actually have.”
Organizers originally planned to send the gifts to the Children’s Hospital on Friday, December 15 and Saturday, December 16 according to Paljevic.
Since the gifts took up most of Conti’s seating area and their back room, they decided to deliver them sooner.
“The generosity of people is amazing,” Paljevic remarked. “I don’t have any children, but I could only imagine what it feels like to have my child in the hospital at this time of year.”
“Unfortunately these kids have to spend their Christmas in the hospital, but we can bring them a little piece of happiness,” said DiRusso.
Electric Paradise and Conti’s said they hope to have the toy drive again in future years.