With the holidays fast approaching, the dedicated team of volunteers at Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes gears up for action. Each year, the 45 helpers gather to sort donated toys and purchase additional gifts with the monetary donations they have collected throughout the year.
“After Thanksgiving, it is pretty much all hands on deck to prepare for the holidays,” said Javid Shojaie, Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes chairman. “We could always use more volunteers. As our organization grows, our need for more help will grow.”
Spreading holiday cheer to Pittsburgh-area children in need is the mission and vision of this nonprofit, which first launched in 2013 under the direction of Shojaie. “Being a local business, I decided we needed to give back to our community,” he said.
The Greater Pittsburgh Business Connection, a partnership of local business owners, joined him in his efforts. Several local business owners serve on the board of directors for Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes.
In 2018, Shojaie went through the process of becoming an official nonprofit so he could expand his fundraising efforts and grow the program to reach more children in the Pittsburgh region. Before, when he donated toys and money he collected and provided it to other nonprofits for distribution, he could not be guaranteed it was being used to benefit local families and children. Under his own nonprofit, he makes that a stipulation for all agencies, charities and other nonprofits who benefit from his annual toy drive.
The first year he collected toys, he put out a donation box in front of his business—Jaden’s Catering in Monroeville—and then distributed whatever toys he amassed during the toy drive to local nonprofits and charities. During that first year, Shojaie collected $1,700 and 2,200 toys. In 2020, his nonprofit raised $100,000 and distributed more than 150,000 toys.
He attributes the success of the annual toy drives to the businesses he partners with in the Pittsburgh region and the dedicated volunteers who help with fundraisers and preparing donations for distribution each year. Every September, he sets up a toy donation drop-off point at his catering business, located at 4727 William Penn Highway in Monroeville. They accept toy donations through early December.
“We usually have to cut things off by the second week in December so we can get everything sorted and delivered to the charities and nonprofits in time for them to reach children by the holidays,” Shojaie said.
Cash donations are accepted year-round. Shojaie said his organization prefers monetary contributions because it allows them to stretch their efforts further. As a nonprofit organization, they can not only buy toys in bulk but also at a discount.
All donated toys must be new and appropriate for children ages birth to 16 years of age. Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes struggles each year getting enough donations for children ages 12-16. “We get plenty of donations for little kids, but we don’t get much for the bigger kids. We always put a little money aside to shop for this age group because we know this is an issue each year,” said Shojaie.
Individuals who wish to shop for children aged 12-16 are encouraged to donate athletic gear and other items for boys, and makeup and other fashion items for girls. These items are among the most requested from agencies and nonprofits they donate to each year. Bikes, books, puzzles, games, and educational toys also are popular and appreciated, Shojaie said.
Charities and other nonprofits that wish to benefit from Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes’ efforts can reach out to Shojaie for information about how to receive toys for distribution. Among the current charities served are Beverly’s Birthdays, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Duquesne Family Victims, East Hills Community, Family Foundations Early Head Start, Family Resources Institute, Holy Families of McKees Rocks, Homewood Concerned Citizens Council, Pittsburgh Athletic Associates, Pittsburgh Area police stations, Schenley Heights Charity Organization, St. Vincent DePaul Society, Tree of Hope and UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.
Shojaie continues to have big aspirations for Toys for Pittsburgh Tikes. Not only is he interested in raising more funds and collecting more toys for children in Allegheny County, but he also has plans to expand into Westmoreland County next year. To learn more about the organization or to make a donation, visit their website at www.toysforpittsburghtikes.com.