Friday, November 24th, 2017

Toys A Big Operation In Lynn

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LYNN/December 5, 2016 By GAYLA CAWLEY Lynn Item

Operation Military Smiles Toy Shops, a Military Friends Foundation Project, gave  toys to more than 100 children on Sunday.

The Military Friends Foundation partnered with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), an initiative of Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) to bring smiles to children of veterans and fallen service members. Sunday marked the first time one of their toy shops was brought to Lynn.

Sarah Sweeney, executive director of the foundation, said Lynn has been on the forefront of caring for veterans, becoming the first city in Massachusetts to end homelessness among veterans earlier this year. “In this small way, we can give back to those who have chosen to wear the uniform and recognize the special kids who have served beside them,” she said. The Operation Military Smiles Initiative was founded in 2011, through a partnership with a group of mothers who had lost their children in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Service members, veterans and families of fallen service members were invited to shop for free for their kids and grandchildren, ages 2 to 15 during the adults-only event. Parents and grandparents were able to pick out two large toys per each child and unlimited stocking stuffers and smaller toys, according to Sweeney. The toys were donated from all over the state, through toy drives from schools, businesses and individuals.

Gold Star wife Linda Cafferty, who lost her husband in 2003 from a disease that stemmed from his time during the Vietnam War, was one of the volunteers for the event, checking people in and verifying military identification.

Bruce Thomas, 58, of Lynn, is a U.S. Army veteran. He was shopping for his grandson and nephew. “This is awesome,” he said of the toy shop. “It’s incredible.”

 Christine Joseph, 51, of Lynn, and an Army veteran, was shopping for her two grandchildren.“I think it’s a great opportunity to give back to the vets,” she said. “I really appreciate it.”

Wesley Landry, 30, of Lynn, served in the U.S. Army for nine years, including time during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He was shopping for his four children, which includes two sets of twins — two 8-year-old boys and 2-year-old babies, a boy and girl. He said the event was “awesome.” “It’s very important,” he said of events that give back to veterans. “It makes you feel appreciated for what you’ve done.”

Sweeney said there were people who traveled from as far as Worcester, Haverhill and Maine, but most were from Lynn. She said the goal was to serve 50 children through the toy shop, a goal quickly surpassed with a morning rush of shoppers. She said everyone who attended was grateful for the gifts.

“A lot of families have let us know this is the only Christmas they’re able to offer their children,” she said.

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