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Hundreds of toys will go to kids in crisis after KidsPeace gift drive

NORTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — The headquarters of local organization KidPeace now looks more like Santa’s workshop than an office, thanks to donations from the community.

Top three 2022 Christmas gifts

Since Missy Hartney, KidsPeace director of development, saw so many wish lists, she has a list of the three most popular gifts this year that will make any kid happy:

  • squishmallows: Hartney said these stuffed animals made of soft Spandex and filled with polyester fiber have become irresistible to kids — squishmallows were on almost every list she saw. They have become so popular online that Insider called them “Gen Z’s Beanie Babies.”
  • Gel pens: According to Hartney, the ‘90s favorite is coming back. Many kids asked for gel pens this year. They come in multicolored packs, and some are even scented.
  • Diamond art: Hartney hadn’t heard of this new art craze until it showed up on multiple wish lists this year. It’s like paint-by-numbers, but instead of paint, the kits include little colored gems that make pictures when assembled together.

KidsPeace, which provides behavioral and mental health services to children, on Monday concluded its 11th annual Angel Tree holiday gift drive.

  • KidsPeace received more than a thousand gifts during its 11th annual Angel Tree holiday gift drive
  • The gifts will go to more than 200 children in the organization’s residential treatment and foster care programs
  • Director of Communications Bob Martin said the toys can help the children heal in their time of crisis. 

About a thousand gifts are piled up in two conference rooms at the KidsPeace administrative office in North Whitehall Township, and about a thousand more are on the way, Director of Development Missy Hartney said.
That's compared with more than 250 gifts donated by members of the community in 2021, officials said.

The gifts will go to the more than 200 children in the agency’s residential treatment and foster care programs.

“It's an amazing campaign,” Hartney said Wednesday, as staff collected and sorted the donations, which they'll later wrap. “I feel like Santa Claus.”

How the Angel Tree gift drive works

Every child at KidsPeace made a list of three gifts he or she wanted for the holiday season. The organization then collected donations of those gifts under a tree at its headquarters.

The Angel Tree, where people dropped off gifts for the children at KidsPeace.

Hartney and others now have to sort through all the gifts to make sure each child gets what was on his or her wish list.

“We literally make a list and check it twice, just like Santa,” Hartney said.

After the gifts are sorted, they will be delivered to each of the residential homes and put under the Christmas tree for the kids to open on Christmas morning.

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Donated gifts are packed into cars to be sent to KidsPeace residential homes.

Hartney said many local organizations donated gifts to the drive, and others volunteered to transport and wrap the gifts.

“It just warms your heart to know that so many people are involved in this campaign to make sure that these kids have a wonderful Christmas."
Missy Hartney, Director of Development for KidsPeace

“It just warms your heart to know that so many people are involved in this campaign to make sure that these kids have a wonderful Christmas,” Hartney said.

Hartney said KidsPeace received more than enough gifts to give all the children what they asked for. The extra gifts will be given out on birthdays, as well as on childrens’ first day at the residential home as part of a “first night bag” of gifts to comfort them.

What is KidsPeace?

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Olivia Marble
The entrance to the KidsPeace administrative building.

KidsPeace was founded in 1882. It runs a psychiatric hospital, 14 residential treatment programs, foster care programs and various educational services.

The organization was previously known as Wiley House until it changed its name in 1992.

Hartney said it is important to have organizations such as KidsPeace to help children with mental health struggles, especially during the youth mental health crisis that worsened during the pandemic.

“I'm just so fortunate to work for an organization that is taking the lead in the Lehigh Valley and beyond to help our children and our families in this community get the help that they need,” Hartney said.

Director of Communications Bob Martin said the toys KidsPeace received during the drive aren’t just for fun — they also help the children heal.

“If a kid is in crisis, or is close to crisis, you can understand where the squishmallow would be really important,” Martin said. “Because de-escalation is one of the most important things that we can do for a child so that they don't feel that they're just out of control or without any connection to the world.”

Martin said KidsPeace is not soliciting toy donations anymore, but monetary donations are always welcome.