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‘It’s an entire community coming together.’ Northeastern holiday toy drive ‘means a lot’ to neighborhood kids

City and Community Engagement Staff members pose with tables full of toy donations.
Northeastern’s City and Community Engagement staff collect toys for Boston area children in need. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

For residents of the Flat 9 at Whittier apartment complex in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, life is full of challenges.

Thanks to students, faculty and staff of Northeastern University, providing holiday presents for their kids is not one of them.

As part of a partnership between Northeastern’s Office of City and Community Engagement and the university’s Latinx Student Cultural Center, the complex recently received bags of toys and books to distribute to residents.

“This means a lot to them,” says Jada Collins, community impact manager for Flat 9 at Whittier. “It means someone is thinking of them, and someone is working to get them the resources that they need.”

The complex was one of several to receive the hundreds of gifts collected in bins scattered throughout the Boston campus in November and December. 

In addition to the gifts, students, faculty and staff also provided more than $2,500 in online donations, which was used to buy more toys, books and gift cards.

Matilda Drayton, chair of the Alice Heyward Taylor Apartments advisory council, says Northeastern’s toy donations have been a godsend for residents of the affordable housing complex.

“The kids who were not able to get any toys can come here and get a toy,” she says. “That is a blessing. A lot of the people in this development are unemployed and this will be an added treat to the kids.” 

Toys and gift cards were also donated to Villa Victoria Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a nonprofit that works to provide affordable housing. They will be distributed during the organization’s Three Kings event, says Sandra Soto, director of youth development programs at IBA. 

“The toys will be part of a bigger community event,” she says. “It’s an entire community coming together, letting kids know they’re supported — that they have an entire village around them.” 

Central to Northeastern’s mission is supporting its neighbors, according to John Tobin, the university’s vice president of city and community engagement.

That support is needed year-round, he says, but especially during the holidays.

“We’re on this beautiful campus, but not too far away from us, there are neighbors who struggle with food, putting meals on their plate,” Tobin says. “There are people who struggle with food insecurity and who struggle with paying the bills and the extras like giving a gift to a child on a Christmas morning. I couldn’t imagine my kids coming down on Christmas morning and not having a gift under the tree.” 

Donated toys ranged from Lego sets and Barbie dolls to board games and stuffed animals. The city and community engagement team also purchased hundreds of dollars worth of Target gift cards to give to the older kids and teens.

Tobin says the real heroes are the students, faculty and staff who make the anonymous donations.

“Think of all the dedication it takes for someone to bring in a gift for someone they don’t know or they’ll never meet,” he says. “We’re so grateful that they made these donations.”