By KATHY CHANG
EAST BRUNSWICK — The gift of giving started when Stephanie Salardino was a young girl.
“I remember [I was] 7 years old going to Rockefeller Center [in New York City] at Christmastime and seeing homeless people,” she said. “I would tell my parents that I just wanted to give them my Christmas money.”
Now in her 30s with the means, Salardino, who hails from East Brunswick, is paying it forward with a toy drive, which is in its fourth year.
“My idea to collect the toys originated from my own children,” she said. “I have a son and daughter — Carlo is eight and Camilla is six — and I see the joy in their eyes when they’re surprised with a toy. Every child deserves that happiness and so much more.”
Salardino said she has been fortunate so this is her way of giving back.
“My father and my husband both didn’t have such privileged childhoods, so I have them in mind as well when I’m doing these toy drives,” she said.
Salardino’s husband, David Salardino, is a police sergeant with the Edison Police Department and was the recipient of donated toys during the Christmas holiday season as a child.
The hundreds of toys collected from the different drop-off locations go to different organizations in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
“I truly try to keep it as local as possible,” Salardino said.
Toys collected at the Withum, Smith & Brown accounting firm in New Brunswick, North Brunswick Pub, Dillinger Room in New Brunswick and the Lozito Law firm in Milltown will go to Elijah’s Promise — a soup kitchen in New Brunswick.
Toys collected at The Golden Lion Inn in Milltown will go to the Crisis Room at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in East Brunswick.
Toys collected at Idle Hour Restaurant and Bar in Point Pleasant Borough and The Spot PBQ in Point Pleasant Beach will go to St. Gregory’s Pantry in Point Pleasant.
Toys collected at The Crab’s Claw Inn in Lavalette will go to Faith Lutheran Church in Lavalette.
The toy drive is only one of the many fundraisers that Salardino has held.
In 2013, Salardino raised $28,000 in one night at Martell’s Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant Beach for four schools devastated by superstorm Sandy in 2012 — Harold G. Antrim Elementary School in Point Pleasant Beach, Point Pleasant Beach High School, Bay Head Elementary School and Lavalette Elementary School.
“I was truly devastated by the storm,” she said. “My family has a house on the beach at the south end of Point Pleasant Beach. We had some very serious damage. We lost the whole first level, dune deck and stairs to the porch, but luckily the house was still standing when two doors down the house washed away.”
Salardino said after the storm, she knew she just wanted to help others.
“My children were only four and two at the time so I was obviously restricted with what I could actually help with,” she said. “I remember seeing a wish list of supplies from children that were displaced and the lists including essentials like pencils, crayons, books, etc.”
Salardino said looking at that list was heartbreaking.
“I contacted a bunch of bands and asked them to play for free,” she said. “Martell’s donated the venue and all of the food. There were seven bands and over 1,000 people attended.”
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.