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Good Cause: Find Toys for Tots drop-off location

Dominic Passero (left) his sister AmeliPassero part Team Passero stwith former Toys for Tots DuPage County coordinator John Meschi current

Dominic Passero (left) and his sister Amelia Passero, part of Team Passero, stand with former Toys for Tots DuPage County coordinator John Meschi and current county coordinator Rita O'Reilly. | Submitted

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To find a Toys for Tots drop-off location near you, visit and search by state and county.

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Updated: December 21, 2013 6:14AM

Sharon and Matt Passero donated to the Toys for Tots campaign in the years before they had children as a way to help out. But as time went by, they got more involved.

And now their children, Dominic, 13, and Amelia, 7, also help. Sharon and Matt use it as a teaching moment.

“If you want to have your school involved, we told them,” Sharon said, “you have to be the one to approach the principal.”

For Amelia, who is in second grade, this is her second year, while Dominic started in fourth grade and now is in eighth grade.

The Downers Grove family named themselves “Team Passero” as a catch phrase to encompass all that they do.

The Passeros are unique to Toys for Tots because they are one of the few families in the area with no members connected to the Marine Corps, which coordinates the drive.

According to Eileen James, the collections site coordinator for DuPage County Toys for Tots, last year DuPage and Kane counties collected 83,000 toys that were then distributed through 88 agencies.

The toys were given to 51,434 of the neediest children in both counties. The goal this year is to exceed those numbers.

James, who is retired and volunteers enough hours weekly for a part-time job, does it because she believes in the cause and the enjoyment of the people who work with her.

She also was on the receiving end of a toy as a child when her family didn’t have enough money for Christmas presents.

“We were extremely poor,” she said. “We never had any toys. My parents couldn’t afford it.”

Her father worked in the steel mills, and one year, the union donated a grocery bag to each child filled with candies, fruit and a toy. James received a doll that she doesn’t have anymore but hasn’t forgotten.

“I have the memory that made me feel part of something,” she said. “It’s a beautiful memory to hold onto.”

And that memory makes her want to help other kids receive toys just as someone did that for her.

She believes that people donate to Toys for Tots because they know it’s legitimate with its Marine connections.

Naperville resident Rita O’Reilly was a Marine reservist on active duty when she found herself “voluntold” to be the coordinator for the city of Chicago that included the suburbs. Because she was good at it, the role continued.

Now that several counties are independent of the city program, this allows them to collect more toys to reach more children. O’Reilly serves as the county coordinator.

“We can’t do it without the businesses,” she said of the organizations that serve as drop-off locations. “Without the community, we couldn’t be able to run.”

The list of businesses participating as drop-off centers is growing, making it even easier for people to give a new and unused toy. There are 670 drop-off locations in DuPage County, 80 of them in Naperville alone.

And agencies that serve children, including some schools, sign up those in need by age and gender to receive the toys.

For families like Team Passero, the children have learned valuable lessons by taking part in Toys for Tots. Mom Sharon pointed out that her husband grew up near housing projects in Chicago, and they are thankful for having enough food on the table.

“We use it as a teaching tool,” said Sharon Passero about her children volunteering for Toys for Tots.

“There are kids out there who only get one toy for Christmas, and we remind our kids they are very lucky, and you’re never too young to make a difference in someone’s life.”

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