For the past eleven years Lori Odes-Elnyczky has been Secret Santa to hundreds of kids who might otherwise go without Christmas gifts. It’s a tradition she started after her 16-year-old son Ryan died.
With the help of friends, family and local businesses, donated toys were collected over the past few weeks. And last Wednesday during a cold and crisp afternoon, four cars carrying at least 1,000 toys pulled up outside our Millvale office. A few gift cards and checks donated by local businesses were tucked in with the presents. Lori had five friends, or elves as she called them, help unload the goods.
Colorful toys of varying shapes, sizes and textures stuffed our elevator before being stored. And on Thursday they decked the halls at The Millvale Community Center during our Holiday Toy Shop where they were given to children who needed presents this holiday season.
“This really makes my family’s Christmas,” Lori cheerfully said.
She first came to NHCO in 1992 after her husband died. She was a client and needed Christmas gifts for Ryan, who was only a few months old. Then, several years later, tragedy struck again when Ryan passed away.
At his memorial service Lori collected canned goods and coats to donate to NHCO’s sharing projects. The following Christmas season she began collecting toys in Ryan’s honor to donate to our annual Holiday Toy Shop.
“Every year it keeps growing and growing,” Lori observed while stacking the presents in our storage room. “It’s nice to be on the giving end,” she added while giving each of our staff members a warm holiday hug.