Four years ago, 10-year-old Ella Craig heard some sad news that would change her life: the toy bins for the annual Toronto Auxiliary Police Toy Drive were empty.
She was so concerned she asked her mother if they could get involved. Using her own money she got her sister and friends to buy toys and take them to Breakfast Television at CityTV to put in the bins.
The story of her efforts sparked others to get involved and soon the bins filled up. Now the local contribution to the Police Toy Drive has become a huge event. Ella’s school of four years ago, Maurice Cody Junior Public School, has made it a major campaign every year and has become one of the city’s largest donors to the toy drive.
“It’s grown tremendously over the four years,” Ella says.
But the life-changing part of it came in the first year when the police were so impressed by Ella’s work they invited her to deliver toys for the day with Santa. She went to many shelters that day and saw there were more children than she had imagined needed gifts.
One of the shelters was a motel on Kingston Road. All the volunteer workers got out of the bus with Santa in the middle of the outdoor parking lot. And suddenly all the doors of the motel opened and out came parents and children.
“They live here?” Ella said in surprise.
There were families all living in one room with just a bathroom and two beds. Ella was overwhelmed. She was told these toys may be the only gifts the kids — from babies to teenagers — would receive.
Her mother, Andrea, recalls her daughter looking up at her and saying, ”We have to do more, we have so much and they have so little.”
The next year, Ella asked her principal, the parent council and the school trustee for Maurice Cody to create a toy drive at the school.
Ella is now at Hodgson Public School, where she does a toy drive there as well, but continues to go back to Maurice Cody to keep the spirit alive.
Through her work she now has a relationship with Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.
After 22 years of the drive being launched each year at a police station or at the police college, the drive was kicked off for the first time in the community.
Celebrating girl’s commitment
On Nov. 4, the 23rd drive was launched at Maurice Cody with students, teachers, school board representatives, police — and Ella Craig — attending. The Toronto Police and the Toy Drive committee wanted to celebrate the commitment of the little girl in the community who created a movement in her schools.
Ella is excited to deliver toys on Dec. 17 this year. But she is already thinking about how to continue growing the Toy Drive in the future with other schools.
The Grade 8 student will be attending high school next year — “possibly North Toronto, but I’m leaving my options open”— but she is already determined to carry on the project.
She herself gets a great gift from the toy drive: “When we deliver the toys to the children, we see them so happy and my heart melts. I feel good doing this for the community.”
New unwrapped toys for boys and girls of all ages, as well as gift cards or cash donations, can be dropped off at 41 Division at 2222 Eglinton Ave. E., 42 Division at 242 Milner Ave., or 43 Division, 4331 Lawrence Ave. E.