Annual toy giveaway makes season brighter for families

By Brad Galvin and edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteers.

The annual TravelCenters of America Toy Giveaway event is Renee Palagyi’s favorite day of the year. Watching children with parents excitedly selecting toys and stuffed animals and enjoying hot cocoa, the Senior Disaster Program Manager of the American Red Cross Northeast Ohio Region said, “This is a very important light at the end of a really challenging year for a lot of these recipients.”

IMG_5887In its 20th year, the Annual Toy Giveaway is an event where 200 children were invited to enjoy festive cheer and take home new toys and goodies. The event aims to make the holidays a little more cheerful for community members who have been the victims of various disasters.

Employees of TravelCenters of America, headquartered in Westlake, began the tradition of collecting toys for children 20 years ago. This year, members of Local 93 of the Cleveland Firefighters Union also contributed toys, as did many Red Cross employees.

On October 27, Wyonna Nash’s home was engulfed in a home fire. She and her children made it out safely but the past few months have been challenging. As she was helping her child choose a toy, she said, “We are grateful to the Red Cross. We are happy to be here. Without them, we don’t know where we would be.”

“Children need toys. This is Christmastime,” said Tom Liutkus, Senior Vice President of Marketing for TravelCenters of America. “We want them to have a memorable Christmas in what was otherwise a tragedy that may have occurred in their lives.” IMG_5894

Tom said that over the past 20 years, employees of TravelCenters of America have donated more than 5,500 toys for the annual giveaway.

The event was also attended by many volunteers who responded to disasters throughout the year. It’s a rewarding experience, since the last time the volunteers saw many of the recipients, they were dealing with one of the worst days of their lives; often, as firefighters were trying to salvage what was left of homes and apartment buildings.

IMG_5900Ellen Braun, a volunteer who has assisted with the toy drive over the last few years explained, “It’s all about giving back. The holidays are about kids and family. I just wish I could help more!”

Between the hugs, toys and messages of hope, the event was a wonderfully festive occasion that helped make the holidays a little brighter for families who have had a devastating 2018.  Watch a video of the event here.

You may also view more photos of the toy giveaway by visiting our Flickr page here.

If you’d like to help families who experience home fires and other disasters, you can donate to Disaster Relief, or become a Red Cross disaster services volunteer.  Visit for more information.

Christmas Season Brighter for Children Affected by Home Fire

Annual Toy Giveaway Made Possible by Employees at TravelCenters of America

“Jade is my favorite one!” It took a while before eight-year old Jamie Sullivan found just


Jamie Sullivan of Cleveland

the right Bratz doll to take home during the annual holiday toy giveaway on Wednesday, December 20, 2017.

Right now, home is with her grandmother Lori.  Jamie, her little brother Samuel, and her mother Angela Jordan lost their home to fire just a week before, on December 15th.

86 children received toys collected during a Christmas Toy Drive by employees of TravelCenters of America. It’s the 19th year of the partnership between TCA and the Red Cross.

“We’re happy to help children who have lost so much,” said Tom Liutkus, Senior Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations at TravelCenters of America.  “The Red Cross does such great work, it just makes sense to have them distribute the toys every year.”


Seven-year old Taneeja Terry of Cleveland finds just the right doll

“We have plenty of gifts to give to these kids who had a lot taken from them this year,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross of Northeast Ohio. ” This is a great opportunity to give back to them, especially at this special time of year.”

“To see everything that you had just gone, it was total devastation,” said Edna Bailey, whose home burned down in September. “I had no idea what to do, where I was going, or anything. The Red Cross came in with hugs, with encouragement, and kind of guiding me. For weeks I received phone calls with follow-up messages.  I’m so thankful.

As of mid-December, our disaster workers responded to 940 incidents, the vast majority of them home fires, in 2017.  The fires disrupted the lives of nearly 1,600 children and more than 2,500 adults in the 22 counties of Northeast Ohio.  They received immediate financial assistance totaling more than $750,000, thanks to the generosity of donors.  If you’d like to help future victims of disasters like home fires, please make a tax-deductible donation here, or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

For more photos from this year’s Holiday Toy Giveaway, visit our Flickr photo album. Media coverage of our annual toy giveaway included a photo gallery from Plain Dealer photographer Lisa DeJong, a video on, and a story on Cleveland 19 WOIO.  



Toys Help Make Holidays Happier

“It really is all about giving.”

Sharon Foster of TravelCenters of America says employees look forward to the annual toy drive, to benefit children who have been chased by fire from their homes in 2016.

In many cases, the children and their families lost everything.

The Red Cross provides immediate financial assistance to families affected by home fires, to help them find a safe place to stay, warm food to eat, and any other needs they may have in the hours after the fire.

TravelCenters of America employees provide the children with a reason to smile. They purchase new toys to place under the tree in the lobby of the national headquarters building in Westlake.  About 400 toys were under the tree when Red Cross volunteers retrieved them on Tuesday, December 20th to transfer them to the Greater Cleveland Chapter headquarters.

The children were brought to the Red Cross the next day, to choose a toy of their own from the vast selection of teddy bears, Barbie dolls, board games, art supplies and more.

“The employees will watch which toys are being collected, to make sure there’s an equal amount for boys and girls.” Sharon said. “If someone notices there isn’t a squishy teddy bear, they buy one to place under the tree.”

This is the 18th year employees of TravelCenters of America have been collecting new toys for children who have received help from the Red Cross.  In that time, nearly 5,000 toys have been donated.

“The volunteers who respond to the fires have seen the children in their darket hours,” said Renee Palagyi, Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Northeast Ohio Region.  “It’s so powerful to be able to see the children in such a happy setting.  It’s incredible.”

The toys collected by TravelCenters of America employees are distributed throughout the region, so children who have been affected by home fires in all 5 chapters in Northeast Ohio have a chance to have a happier holiday season.

Many families experience home fires during the holiday season.  Here are some ways to keep your family safe at this time of year.

Click here to see more pictures from the 2016 Travel Centers of America/Red Cross toy drive and distribution.

Free Toys For Children Following Home Fires

Travel Centers of America Workers Hold Toy Drive for Home Fire Survivors

Dozens of children recently chased from their homes by fire now have new board games, baby dolls and teddy bears, thanks to about 300 employees at TravelCenters of America.

The workers have been collecting toys at the company’s National Headquarters building in Westlake since Thanksgiving, anxious to help families facing hard times during the holiday season.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross packed the toys into an idle Emergency Response Vehicle on December 22, and transported them to Red Cross Regional Headquarters, where they were distributed the next day.

Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

The children chose whatever they wanted from tables mounded with soft, cuddly stuffed toys, remote control cars and superhero action figures. They also enjoyed cookies and hot chocolate while their parents breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that at least part of Christmas was taken care of.

Employees with TravelCenters of America hold the toy drive for children affected by disasters every year.  The American Red Cross is grateful to them and to all who make a contribution to disaster relief, especially at this time of year.