For children suffering from severe illness, Hanukkah may not always be a joyful time since they often have to endure ongoing medical treatments, hospitalization or a lack of social activities due to compromised immunity.

To make their days brighter, several toy drives are conducted annually to offer kids a gift or two at no cost to their family through Chai Lifeline, an organization that provides social and emotional opportunities to children with life-threatening and lifelong illnesses.

“Part of our mandate on behalf of these children is not just to provide them social, emotional and financial support that has long-defined Chai Lifeline’s programming but also very practical kindness like tailor-made gifts for the holidays,” said Rabbi Simcha Scholar, CEO of Chai Lifeline. “The campaign over Hanukkah proved overwhelmingly successful but was only possible because of the expanding community of donors who share our vision.”

Among the largest toy-drive collections are one coordinated by the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University, in conjunction with the Sigma Delta Tau sorority, and the annual Bergen County Chanukah Toy Drive in northern New Jersey, which provides not just toys but bicycles as well. (In addition to Chai Lifeline, the Bergen County drive also distributes gifts to local agencies.)

According to Joy Sklar, who coordinates the Bergen County initiative, which relies on donations from students and families at area Jewish schools and synagogues, “The Toy Drive has two basic objectives: creating a sense of unity across the greater Bergen County community through the collection of toys, but more importantly, it is getting our children to think beyond themselves and help others.”

The Chabad-run initiative netted a total of $30,000 worth of toys that were to be distributed to children in New York City hospitals who are battling cancer. This was the 13th year that the Rohr Chabad Center at BU has coordinated a toy drive dubbed “light up a life.”

According to Rabbi Levi Slonim, director of development at the Rohr Chabad, Chai Lifeline has been the recipient of the toys since the drive began with the number of items varying over the years. This year is the second-largest gift; the record was $33,000 worth of toys in 2019 just before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

He credits its success to the work of students who take on the task of running the drive. For two months, they work “to motivate their friends and raise money for it,” he said. While some people chose to purchase toys on their own, many items are purchased by student coordinators as funding comes in.

The project resonates with them, said the rabbi, “because deep down, we all have a soul, and as much as we enjoy things that make us feel good, even deeper than that we want to make a difference for someone else. That’s an even more meaningful happiness.”

This year’s collection at Binghamton culminated on Monday night with the special event where the toys were displayed. Danielle Ganchrow said seeing all the gifts laid out was the “best part of the evening” because it “represents so much joy we will be bringing these kids.”

“I am so honored and happy to be involved in this,” added Ganchrow, who co-chaired this year’s toy drive with fellow students Chaviva Liss and Maya Hoff. In addition to Sigma Delta Tau, dozens of other Greek groups, school clubs and corporate sponsors also stepped up to help.

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