There’s nothing quite like watching a child open a new toy on Christmas morning, and a special pop-up shop lets parents put smiles on their kids’ faces.
It is run by the Department for Children and Families, and 37 families with open DCF cases have been asked to stop.
Whatever is on the list, it’s probably at the Olive Branch toy and gift shop, which opened in Glastonbury for the first time this year.
“These are truly amazing things that I wouldn’t have been able to get any other way,” said parent-buyer Ashley May-Williams.
Over 1,000 toys have been donated and collected in the store, and parents can wrap them up and give them to their children for free.
“I have four children and Christmas is expensive. I just couldn’t do it alone,” May-Williams said.
May-Williams struggled to care for her children after being involved in several car accidents that left her struggling with agoraphobia, a phobia that results in an extreme fear of leaving home.
“I asked for help at the hospital,” she said. “I had gotten really sick and I just remember looking at those nurses and knowing that I couldn’t live like we were living anymore.”
That’s when DCF stepped in, connecting May-Williams to telehealth and therapy. Today, the mom who never left the house did just that, driving over an hour from Bethel to the toy store.
“Being able to get in the car and get groceries for my kids when they need it is something I never thought I could do,” May-Williams said. “And here I am, and I have to do the Christmas shopping. And I’m learning that when my kids wake up on Christmas morning, it’s because of the hard work we’ve all put in.
Stories like hers are why volunteers stepped up to make the pop-up possible.
“We’ve been collecting toys since mid-summer,” said Juan Garcia, who donated several toys alongside his wife.
“We also had a lot of family members, so we ended up accumulating about 130 toys,” Melanie Garcia said.
Organizer Jacqueline Ford says the gift shop illuminates the spirit of DCF’s mission, which is to keep families together.
“They can shop around and they can see what’s available and what their kids would like,” Ford said. “Then they also have the option of packing up the toys and then leaving the store with dignity, as if they had helped create that joy on Christmas morning.”
For parent buyers, this means a memorable experience.
May-Williams says for her that working with DCF is life changing this season.
“It was a very scary process. I didn’t want to lose my kids,” she said. “But there was never this threat of losing my kids. It was, you know, let’s make you better for your kids.”
The DCF hopes to expand the program statewide next year.