Not only is Emily Meyer an active 14-year-old North Babylon High School freshman, but she makes it her mission every holiday season to bring joy to local sick kids who won’t be home for Christmas.
“Even though it’s a small thing in the town, it’s making a big difference,” she said. “I enjoy doing it and knowing that I made someone’s day makes me feel great.”
Emily’s Awesome Toy Drive started 10 years ago when Emily got sick on Christmas day and had to be rushed to the hospital.
After spending the night at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, she woke up to a volunteer from the Child Life Program who handed her a Christmas present.
“I remember being so happy with my new toys,” she said. “My grandfather thought it was a really great thing too, so the next year we came up with the idea of a toy drive, so that toys can be donated to the hospitals like they were to me.”
The first year of the drive collected less than 25 toys from Emily’s family to Good Sam.
It has grown every year since.
Last year, the teen gathered 1,200 toys that were donated to several different facilities across the island.
When Emily began collecting, it started with donations from her family, neighbors and from families from whatever school she was going to in North Babylon.
Her plans changed when she reached 9th grade.
“When I went to elementary school I did it there, when I went to the middle school I did it there, but in high school, we were thinking about how can we make it a little bit bigger,” she said. “So we decided to make it district-wide and that officially happened this year.”
Now instead of getting most of their donations through word of mouth and flyers, the North Babylon School District is promoting Emily’s initiative.
“Now that it’s district-wide, the community is so helpful,” she said. “My mom has the Facebook page and all the schools are putting it on their social media.”
mom, Tara DeCola, said that they have gotten donations from places completely
out of the Town of Babylon, and have picked up things from Queens to
“Watching her grow with this has been outstanding,” said the proud mother. “It’s just incredible.”
By becoming active within the community, Emily was recently declared the town’s first Kindness Ambassador. And she has been using her newfound connections to get the word out about her toy drive.
“She really is trying to work with the town to get them to understand that they need to do more for people here,” said DeCola. “The more we put ourselves out there, the more response we get and we’re able to give the kids a nice big Christmas.”
Over the last 9 years, Emily would begin promoting the toy drive in early November through early December.
She tries to get all her donations in well before Christmas so the hospitals can sort and distribute accordingly.
When someone tells her that they have a donation, she and her mom are willing to come pick up the toys to bring them home where they are packaged in a very specific, and organized way.
“We have a system now,” Emily told GreaterBabylon. “So that when 200-300 toys come in, we package those and then send them out.”
The typical goal is to deliver 200 toys to each facility; depending on how many donations Meyer received. “We never know how much we’re going to get and often times we get stuff at the very end of the drive,” added DeCola.
And the constant donations coming from her front door, the local bins, and from the district have filled their home, and garage, to the brim already.
“I’m very organized,” said Emily. “I have a boy bag, a girl bag and a neutral bag… I like to keep a count: a boy bag of 20, girls have 15 toys and the neutral bags have 20, so I count them up quick and hand them out to the hospitals that way.”
They have already begun delivering bags to make room for more.
Emily said that people have been so generous and have handed over amazing presents that made the kids smile. Many of the donations are for kids aged 5-11, which is great, but she said sometimes babies and teenagers are forgotten about.
“When I get monetary donations, they give me money and I’ll go get toys for teenagers and babies to kind of even it out,” she said.
The teen created an Amazon Wish List that helps people who can’t get to the store donate, as well. “
We just ask that when people send gifts, we ask for a note so we can personally thank them on our Facebook page,” said DeCola.
The teenager has been modest throughout the whole drive.
“She doesn’t want to make it about her,” said DeCola.
“Everyone’s always like, ‘you’re an amazing girl,’” added Emily, “but I’m like, everyone donates so they’re amazing too!”
This year, Emily has been able to coordinate with several hospitals. Good Sam is still on the list, with students from the district helping to deliver this year.
Other places on the delivery list include Stony Brook University Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center.
Some of those toys go to the siblings of kids who aren’t able to be home for the holidays, too, something that hits the teenager close to home.
“Emily knows what it feels like to be the sibling of a sick child and how it impacts the family,” said DeCola. “The ease of having parents not worry about Santa coming to the hospital is a huge deal because they have a lot of other stuff to worry about — not just the child who’s hospitalized, but their family at home so it takes a little bit of the burden off.”
Emily plans on continuing growing the toy drive. Earlier this year, she started the process to become a 501c3.
“That way we can get some grants and try to get some collections throughout the year, so it’s not overwhelming,” said DeCola.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Barbie doll, a toy car, a teddy bear, or any other donation, Emily knows every donation matters.
“It’s great,” said Emily on the growth of the drive. “It has gotten so big when it started so small.”
The teen set up boxes around town in case people want to drop off any donations. Some locations include: all North Babylon Schools, Dr. Vitagliano’s office in West Islip, Dr. Chinnici’s office in East Islip, Country Village Florist in East Islip, Sutton Agency in East Islip and David Sanders Dance Dynamics in North Babylon and East Islip.
Top: Emily Meyer, 14, with her donations at her home in North Babylon.