Several community members came together on a massive toy drive last week, collecting over 2,500 toys for four different organizations: Southington Community Services, Chrysalis Center in Hartford, Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, and Kelly’s Kids Inc. in Prospect.
It all started last year when Diana Sheard, better known in town as “Valentine the Clown,” went to the New Mill Restaurant one day and asked her server where she got her hair done. Next thing she knew, she was chatting with Jan DiMaria from Suite 107 Hair Salon.
DiMaria had done toy drives in the past, but when she met Valentine the Clown, the two collaborated and expanded the drive. Last year was such a success that they brought it back again this year even bigger and better than before.
Now with a vision, DiMaria had a chat with Oshana Elementary School principal Josie Rogala, another client of hers, who suggested involving all eight elementary schools in town along with Hartford HealthCare’s Mulberry Gardens and at Southington Care Center. She then partnered up with Jenna Denorfia of Pure Skin to organize the drive. STEPS (Southington Townwide Effort to Promote Success) Coalition board members got on board, too.
Each elementary school held their own toy drives. Peter Agostini, owner of New Britain Transportation, donated a bus for the crew to travel in and collect the toys. They stopped by every elementary school and had a “pop-up party” at each school where they collected all the toys. Police donated their time to help with the event, and Denorfia Builders even donated a suite for the team to bring all of the toys back to until they could deliver them.
DiMaria said she was grateful to partner with so many people to make this drive happen.
“I’ve been doing this my entire adult life but on a much smaller scale,” she said. “It was amazing to partner with Jenna and everyone else.”
Sheard handed out a red clown nose to students during the pop up parties and told them they had an “important job to do.”
“I told the kids to remember the power of one—don’t forget to give one smile a day to someone else,” said Sheard. “It makes a huge difference to send a spark of joy to someone at some point of the day.”
She told students that when they wore the nose, their job was to make someone smile.
“Being a clown in town, I know about all the needs in this community,” said Sheard. “It feels so good to be able to give back.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.