For six years, Marines, Toys for Tots and Lawrenceville’s Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs – owned by Paul Tweedly of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville – have worked together to help kids at Christmas. Photo courtesy of Paul Tweedly 
For six years, Marines, Toys for Tots and Lawrenceville’s Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs – owned by Paul Tweedly of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville – have worked together to help kids at Christmas. Photo courtesy of Paul Tweedly 

By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

In this season of wish lists and gift-giving, parishes, schools and neighborhood businesses have been collaborating to support families in need – partnerships that unite communities in sharing, which blesses not only those who receive, but also those who give.

For six years, the Toys for Tots program has found a home in Lawrenceville’s Captain Paul’s Firehouse Dogs, a restaurant owned by Paul Tweedly of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville.

When he retired as captain of the Trenton Fire Department in 2009, he opened the restaurant that is fashioned as a haven for those who served in the military or emergency management services or are committed to the spirit of volunteerism.

As Marines from a local recruiting office came by for lunch, Tweedly asked how he could support them. They responded, “Get involved with Toys for Tots.”

With his pastor’s permission, Tweedly placed a box in the church foyer to collect new, unwrapped toys in the weeks before Christmas. He enlisted his friends in the Marines and the Knights of Columbus to pick up the toys and prepare them for distribution.

“The parishioners are incredible,” Tweedly said. “Everyone is so proud to be part of it and always trying to give back. Last year we collected 2,000 toys and $2,500.”

Russell Schofield, a fellow parishioner and friend of Tweedly, coordinates the distribution of the donations.  “The toy drive was small, and every year it got bigger.  A lot of people are involved on toy pick-up day – Girl Scouts sing carols, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus arrive. We’re about charity and everyone’s responsive.”

On Dec. 15, this year’s toy pick-up day, Lawrenceville police officers will face the town’s firefighters for a football game at Notre Dame High School.  Admission is $10 and a new, unwrapped toy. Paul will supply 200 hot dogs for spectators.

“We are all in a circle to help each other out,” Tweedly said. “We are taught as Christians to help each other. I think about the kids in Trenton.  If our community can help their community, it’ll bring a smile to everyone.”

Plush in Charity

For 10 years, Mike and Gail Rua of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, have coordinated a dinner for those alone on Christmas. Guests enjoy a meal, a visit from Santa, gifts for children and clothing.

Several years ago, a volunteer who worked for the Manahawkin PetSmart approached the store’s manager to help locate gifts for the children. Now, whenever customers make a $5 donation to PetSmart’s charities for animals, PetSmart donates a stuffed animal to St. Mary Parish. The parish receives from 500 to 700 animals – more than enough for Christmas guests.

“We share with a lot of other groups,” Gail Rua said. “We give them to Big Brothers Big Sisters, Kiwanis. It’s such a network – we learned of all these groups we can share resources with.”

Added Mike Rua, “We have people of all faiths helping us. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Driven to Help

During the second week of December, Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, collaborated with Toyota World of Lakewood, the Lakewood BlueClaws and Shawn & Sue’s Making Miracles Radiothon for a Mingle- Jingle with Santa to benefit Toys for Tots and Children’s Specialized Hospital, Toms River.

The event, held at the car dealership, attracted 150 guests and was highlighted by the presence of Buster, the mascot for the BlueClaws baseball team; WOBM deejay Shawn Michaels broadcasting live and 50 rescue dogs looking for a home. Children and pets were welcome to have a picture taken with Santa.

Eight students from Donovan Catholic – freshmen Meghan Mulligan and Alyssa Apruzzi; sophomores Kaitlin Pieciak, Camryn Frederick, Marianna Marino, Lia Trabucco and Jeremy Dong, and senior Leo Lu –  helped with set up, collected toys and assisted children in making slime at the craft table. 

“The event was a success!” said Chrystopher Mulligan, general manager for Toyota World. “I appreciate the hard work and dedication of our staff, Donovan Catholic volunteers and valued partners. Many children experienced the joy of the holiday while giving to those who are less fortunate.”

Mulligan has made giving back a priority at Toyota World.  “We have three sons who are alumni of Donovan Catholic and a daughter who is currently enrolled,” said his wife, Tara, who is the school’s admissions coordinator.

“Because of the service our sons performed at Donovan, Chrys supports doing service. He believes businesses are not just about making money, but doing good for the community.”