By Erin Achenbach
Christmas came early for some students at St. Louis Public Schools last week when the south county organization Toys for School Kids delivered toys to three elementary schools as part of an annual holiday toy drive.
Toys For School Kids, founded by business partners Michael Raeber and Tom Brady over 25 years ago, delivered donated toys to students at Meramec Elementary, Monroe Elementary and Patrick Henry Downtown Academy Dec. 13, 17 and 18.
And there’s still time to donate. Although the toys for this year were already delivered to schools, toy donations are being collected through Monday, Dec. 31. Any leftover toys will be put into storage and used in next year’s donation.
Those who want to donate to the cause can find any Crestwood or Sunset Hills business with a sign out front that says “Toys for School Kids Drop Point.” There are about 30 locations around the Crestwood and Sunset Hills area.
Toys can also be dropped off at Raeber and Brady’s business, Equity Financial Services at 8615 Pardee Lane, Crestwood. Toys for children in grades four through six are most needed.
Raeber and Brady are no strangers to community service. Between the two of them, they are members of multiple service organizations and other groups, including the Crestwood-Sunset Hills Chamber of Commerce, Crestwood-Sunset Hills Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club of Crestwood-Sunset Hills.
The two of them came up with the idea of “Toys for School Kids” 26 years ago while working with individual St. Louis Public Schools buildings on different projects. They realized that many of the children did not have the same opportunities that their children did, so they decided to start pooling resources to see if they could make a difference in the students’ lives.
“We saw that there was a need with these children,” said Raeber. “We saw that need, and we attempted to fill it.”
Once delivered to the schools, the toys are set up in either the gym or cafeteria in a makeshift toy store. The students are brought in by grade level, with the older classes first followed by the younger classes. Each child gets a personal shopper to help them choose what toys they want, and most students end up with three to four different toys, Raeber said.
“What strikes me is that even though a lot of these children don’t have a whole lot, it’s not unusual for them to be looking for something for their siblings or parents,” said Raeber, reflecting on some of the memories with Toys for School Kids that have made the strongest impressions on him. “The selflessness of a child, the innocent selflessness of children. There’s no greed… It just melts your heart.
“There are so many people who are involved, Tom Brady, Tom’s wife Sandy and my wife, Ann,” said Raeber, thanking those who have made Toys for Schools Kids so successful.
“There are so many special volunteers that do amazing things for the kids,” said Raeber. “There are businesses that collect toys at their holiday parties and donate. We have one family that buys toys year round, then brings them to donate. This year, they had so many they had to take out the seats in their minivan to fit all the toys for delivery.”
Raeber, a 1987 graduate of Lindbergh High School, also recognized his alma mater Lindbergh Schools for its help.
“Lindbergh School District is a big help in this,” he said. The Builders Club, a youth service club at Lindbergh middle schools, collects money for a toy drive and then purchases toys with the money to donate to Toys for School Kids. This year the Builders Club collected nearly $1,000.