This holiday season, Elm City resident Honda Smith has been collecting donations for her annual Winter Wonderland toy drive, which will provide holiday gifts for thousands of local children.
Organized entirely by Smith, the fundraising campaign, now in its 16th year, has gathered donations from a toy drive on Nov. 19 called Fill-A-Dumpster and from church and company sponsors. Yale students and other New Haven residents have also contributed, Smith said. However, despite support from the broader community, this year’s campaign has been less productive so far than years past.
Children will receive the toys at the third annual Winter Wonderland event on Dec. 18, held at James Hillhouse High School, which will feature activities, food and entertainment for kids and their families.
“This is my way of paying it forward,” Smith said. “It’s my passion; it’s my dream.”
Smith said she expects about 3,000 children to attend the Winter Wonderland event, a figure comparable to last year.
According to Smith, the campaign has been receiving donations more slowly than past years. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had collected just under 1,000 toys, short of the 3,000 toy goal. According to Smith, Fill-A-Dumpster was “not a good event at all,” as only eight people donated. Smith said she is continuing to reach out to potential sponsors, including churches and city officials.
“I am a person of faith. I have to say that I am hopeful,” Smith said.
Fish Stark ’17, who knows Smith personally, organized a fundraising campaign for Yale students on the crowdsourcing website Tilt, raising $1,200 from 57 contributors as of Wednesday evening. Last year, Stark raised $750 through a similar campaign.
According to Stark, about one-fourth of this year’s contributors also donated last year. He said he reached out to friends for donations, adding that “it’s really just a word of mouth campaign.”
“I was really surprised by people’s generosity,” Stark said. “It’s never the people you expect.”
Although fundraising officially ended on Monday night, Stark reopened the Tilt campaign, which will be live through Thursday night to collect additional donations. He credited Smith for organizing the event and added that even after he graduates, he has underclassman friends who will take over the fundraising campaign.
Susie Beyl ’20 has been helping Stark collect donations, sharing the campaign on Facebook and telling friends. Since she is from West Haven, she has the opportunity to extend the campaign to people at home, she said.
Alexander Posner ’18, who donated to the online campaign, said he found out about the campaign on Facebook.
“A lot of people seemed to be liking [the campaign on Facebook] based on the fact that the fundraising goal was met so quickly,” Posner said.
Both Beyl and Posner said they encourage people to give back this holiday season. Beyl added that it is easy to overlook the need for aid in the New Haven community, and Posner agreed.
“Especially during the holiday times, we we’ve sort of built this social expectation that people are getting gifts. It’s a constant narrative that is reinforced,” Posner said. “It’s essentially important to give.”