The Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University has made a big difference this holiday season. For the fifth year in a row, it held a toy drive to benefit sick children, this year donating more than $11,000 in toys with the toys and monetary donations it raised as part of its “light up a life” project.

Jason Babazadeh, a 20-year-old junior at Binghamton, heard about the project through his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and got involved last year. The fraternity brother who showed him the ropes had graduated, and so Babazadeh stepped in, inviting a friend of his to work on the current project.

The Chabad toy drive is spearheaded with Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity and the Sigma Delta Tau sorority. More than 15 different clubs and groups on campus also joined together as co-sponsors, uniting hundreds of students together for this single cause.

Brainstorming began in the fall with three fraternity brothers, two sorority sisters and a group of students involved with Chabad. They met each week to discuss the drive, track its progress and spread the word. To do so, they incorporated social media and put up a website to allow people to create goals, setting up a virtual thermometer to track the amount of dollars raised.

Some 15 students wound up heading the program, which also involved the campus and the local community. The group collected toys of all kinds, as well as donations used to pay for even more toys.

The gifts were stored until the day of the culminating event, at which time the students transferred the stockpile of toys from various storage spots to the event space. Vans then came to pick them up for delivery to children with cancer in various New York hospitals.

The culminating event went off without a hitch last week in the school’s East Union; it featured a performance by the Crosbys—a Binghamton University a cappella group—and was topped off with donuts and coffee donated by a local Starbucks. Also, students made “Get Well” cards that were to be distributed to the children along with the toys.

Twelve of the committee of 15 students who coordinated the toy drive.
Twelve of the committee of 15 students who coordinated the toy drive.

As for those toys, the way they were presented proved to be a conversation point in and of itself. They were displayed inside a 7-foot dreidel—“The Giving Dreidel”—designed and built by local community members specifically for the event. Projects in past years included an 11-foot menorah made of LEGOs and a 9-foot menorah constructed out of donated toys.

The toys will be distributed through the New York-based Chai Lifeline organization, and some of its representatives were on hand to address participants of the drive.

Babazedeh said he was proud of the success of the campaign and looks forward to the next one.

“I definitely plan on working on the toy drive next year,” he said. “I think the most important aspect is just helping out the kids, and letting them know that there are people who care and that people are thinking of them.”

A Smile on a Face

Rabbi Levi Slonim is a second-generation rabbi working in the area. His parents came to Binghamton 29 years ago at the behest of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

He currently serves as the programming and development director of the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University. Bringing students together around Chanukah—like every holiday—is an important part of his duties. In addition to a host of high-profile Chanukah events on campus, including smaller parties off-campus and at dorm locations, as well as a campus-wide menorah-distribution campaign, Slonim and a group of students hit on the idea of creating a meaningful Chanukah experience specifically through giving.

“The Rebbe always taught us, especially when it came to the holidays, to make sure people have what they need,” he said. “And I think people feel best about themselves and most fulfilled when they help make a difference, when they are able to put a smile on someone else’s face.”

Chabad student president Lucy Schwartz, left, makes "Get Well" cards for the children, along with Mushkah and Berkie Chein.
Chabad student president Lucy Schwartz, left, makes "Get Well" cards for the children, along with Mushkah and Berkie Chein.

For Rachel Samuels, 20, working on the Chabad Toy Drive offered a chance to meet new people and contribute to a worthwhile cause.

“It was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had in college,” she said. Her role? She headed up the effort to buy toys and was thus involved in the shopping, which took her on a number of visits to area stores.

“Last year, when I saw the van leave with all the toys, I was in awe of what I saw and kept thinking about how happy those kids were going to be,” explained Samuels. “That night, I emailed one of those spearheading the event, saying that I wanted to get involved the next year.

“It was absolutely amazing.”