Close to 16 million children in this country live below the poverty level.
Growing up in an affluent suburb, that's a stat I never had top of mind. I was among the fortunate. I had a beautiful house. I went to a good school. I had every opportunity in front of me and never longed for anything. Yet it was a pile of plastic toys that would change my life forever.
Driving around the neighborhood with my mother on "Spring clean-up day," it was easy to notice dozens of brightly colored plastic toys being thrown to the curb. These toys had belonged to children just like me, and I couldn't help but think of the disadvantaged children only a few neighborhoods away that would smile from ear to ear if they could have had these toys.
And I thought about where these toys were destined -- the landfills. As a family we were very conscience of protecting the environment, and, even at 16, I knew what a hazard these non-biodegradable toys posed.
I asked my mother to pull over, and we sat for a moment staring at a pile of good-as-new toys, wondering what we could do. And it didn't take long before we were piling toys into our car, and laughing about how my dad was going to react. We collected every toy in sight that day, and stored them in the basement of our home. And this plastic toy "hunt" continued during the following weeks -- each and every time we spotted a toy on the curb.
We weren't green activists. We didn't have any sort of plan. But somehow that pile of toys struck such an emotional chord. I was young enough to remember how important my own toys were while growing up, and I didn't have far to look for a little "do-good" inspiration. My parents had always instilled in me the importance of helping others.
That spring and summer I spent countless hours in my driveway, power-washing toys, and in my basement, writing a note to each child who would be the new owner. Our first delivery was to a family violence center in Newark; a safe place for moms and kids to get away from domestic abuse. I will never forget the look on the children's faces when we arrived with a bundle of toys just for them. It is a moment that will stay with me forever, and it was the moment that made me realize -- we were onto something.
Fast forward six years, Second Chance Toys has collected, cleaned and donated more than 130,000 toys to almost 250 organizations across the country. We have touched the lives of close to a half of a million children, and we have saved 130,000 cubic feet of waste from landfills. Piled high, that's enough to reach the top of the Empire State Building more than 100 times.
We have also received support from some terrific companies: Kohl's, 1-800-Got-Junk, Kidville, and Viacom have embraced and joined our mission and helped us build an infrastructure that allows us to collect, clean and deliver toys to these children in great need. We also have a "village" of moms and families who have been inspired to duplicate the work we do in their own local communities.
We have come a long way from collecting toys off the curb, but I know there is also a lot more we need to accomplish -- and our arms and hearts are open to anyone who would like to join us.
Next stop: Earth Week 2013.