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Yuletoy Drive: Making The Holidays Bright For Local Children

Needless to say, it's a busy time of year for Santa.

But he's getting a big helping hand, thanks to the thousands of toys donated to local boys and girls by SEPTA employees.

This outpouring of generosity starts with the efforts of Carol Looby, assistant secretary to the SEPTA Board. For the past 27 years, she's banded together a very special group of elves to organize the annual holiday Christmas Yuletoy Drive program.

At the beginning of December, 80 work locations, including districts, shops and administration offices, receive large, bright-red barrels to collect donations of new toys. These gifts are then distributed to various local organizations, who use them to help bring some holiday warmth and joy for children who may otherwise not receive any presents on Christmas.

For Looby, the Yuletoy Drive is a labor of love - and there's definitely a lot on the "labor" side.

Her work begins around Thanksgiving, with efforts to organize by contacting various SEPTA divisions and locations. In addition to donations, fellow employees lend a helping hand in efforts to coordinate Yuletoy Drive efforts.

"I couldn't do all this myself," said Looby. "We have great people at our locations who are willing to volunteer because they have so much fun this time of year helping children have a wonderful Christmas."

This year the Yuletoy Drive received well over 5,000 toys - far exceeding donations from previous drives. Among the massive haul: bicycles, scooters, skateboards, dolls, sports equipment and a variety of games. More practical gifts such as warm hats, scarves and gloves are also donated and distributed to charitable agencies assisting children and families in the area.

One organization that receives the Yuletide Drive gifts is John F. Kennedy Communtiy Mental Health & Mental Retardation Center. Director Joel Esterman said he was overwhelmed by this year's donations.

"This is the most phenomenal year that we've ever had," Esterman said. "The thing that was most exciting was that, in addition to the toys for younger children, we received a lot of toys for teenagers. That just warmed my heart. Usually, you don't get as much for the older children, but this year, there's a tremendous amount for the teenagers as well."

With concerns about the economy impacting toy donations this year, Esterman said SEPTA's sizable delivery was a welcome surprise.

"It's really special for the kids," Esterman said. "They really look forward to this."

Some of the toys for children of all ages were selected directly by Looby herself. In addition to toys, employees can donate cash; sometimes entire divisions take up collections for the drive. In these instances, it often falls to Looby to go out and put the money to use.

"When people donate cash, I find myself shopping at a local toy store the night before we distribute the toys," said Looby. "I've managed to purchase over $1,000 worth of toys and other gifts in 30 minutes with my husband's help."

Two days before Christmas, Santa joins the Yuletoy Team loading the toys on a SEPTA bus to deliver to area organizations.

"This is probably the one time of the year that I look forward to the most," Looby said. "We have been really blessed, and to share that with my co-workers, it just kind of restores your faith in mankind.

"To see the joy in the eyes of children is a gift in and of itself."

Carol Looby and SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey help Santa load a bus with Christmas gifts.

Toys are gathered in red Yuletoy Drive barrels at SEPTA facilities.

More than 5,000 toys were collected in this year's Yuletoy Drive.

Toys are loaded on a bus outside SEPTA headquarters.

Yuletoy Drive volunteers with gifts bound for local charities.