Helping Hands in West Islip, an organization created by resident Jen Gallozzi, held a kids meal and backpack drive on Wednesday, June 16 at at the American Legion Hall in West Islip.
During the course of the event, which lasted from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., donations totaled approximately 2,000 backpacks and over 1,000 lunches.
Although the event was specific to backpack and meal donations, other donations were accepted, including bicycles and toys. The care and creativity taken by the organization is evident in the detail put into the meals made for the children by other children in the community.
“We have kids make non-perishable kids meals,” Gallozzi said. “We tell the kids to put a toy in it like the Happy Meals at McDonalds with the theory of, if my kids get excited over a toy in their Happy Meal so will these kids. The kids can put a card, a toy, some write jokes, some put pictures. We try to put a lot of tender love and care into it.”
Gallozzi, who has been a West Islip resident for 23 years, started the organization 20 years ago. What started out as a donation box in Bayview Elementary School in 1990 has transformed into something far different — a community-driven and operated organization that does six drives a year and caters to the changing needs of the families and children in the community.
“We’re constantly changing with the needs of the kids,” Gallozzi said. “I do the school supply and backpack drive in June so I’m kind of stocked for the summer, and when the kids resume school we’ll be doing back to school clothes and Halloween costumes.”
Helping Hands in West Islip also works directly with other local charitable organizations, which include various hospitals, soup kitchens and women’s shelters, the Head Start program, Gerald Ryan Outreach in Wyandanch and more. All of this is done with no monetary backing. “It runs on no funding,” Gallozzi said. “We haven’t taken in a dime this whole time; it’s just asking the community for what we need and we get it.”
The community, Gallozzi said, matches the dedication and effort she puts forth. “People want to teach their kids to give, they like to have a nice, convenient and safe place to do it,” Gallozzi said of the families in the community. “Its very welcoming; it’s just a fun way to do it. Everybody meeting, its very old-fashioned and everyone’s welcome.”