house of toys neon exchange
Volunteers on Dec. 10 organize various board games and other toys donated to the House of Toys drive over the past month at The Neon Exchange in downtown Gilroy. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Volunteers gathered at The Neon Exchange in downtown Gilroy on Dec. 10 to organize thousands of toys that would be given away to families in need over the following days.

The annual House of Toys drive, led by Mt. Madonna YMCA and The Neon Exchange, with St. Joseph’s Family Center, Gilroy After Hours Rotary and Gilroy Unified School District, asked the public to donate new, unwrapped toys, books and jackets, as well as gift cards, from Oct. 25 to Dec. 9.

And they delivered. Five thousand toys were donated, including 600 books gathered by the After Hours Rotary, helping 1,250 families, according to Toni Bowles, founder and CEO of The Neon Exchange.

In addition, 30 local businesses set up donation barrels at their shops.

From Dec. 11-13, The Neon Exchange opened its doors for a shopping experience, where families could pick toys for their children that would then be wrapped by one of the numerous volunteers.

“This is the piece that warms everyone’s heart,” said Andrea Nicolette, executive director of Mt. Madonna YMCA.

Nicolette said this is the seventh year of House of Toys, the fourth at The Neon Exchange, thanking Bowles and her crew for opening up their space and supporting the drive.

With toys and even wrapping paper more expensive this year, Nicolette said the drive is even more important for families struggling to make ends meet while also providing a gift for their children during the holiday season.

The Dec. 10 event drew local officials including Santa Clara County Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, Mayor Marie Blankley and City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz, who spoke to the volunteers and thanked them for their efforts to brighten up the holidays for community members in need.

house of toys neon exchange andrea nicolette mt madonna ymca
Standing in front of the mountain of donated toys, Mt. Madonna YMCA Executive Director Andrea Nicolette thanks the volunteers for their efforts. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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