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Toy drive founder blown away by community’s generosity

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If there’s one thing Todd Sheldon can “bank” on, it’s the generous nature of those within the Hunter community.

The initiative he, wife Penny and son Lachlan founded eight years ago, the Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive, was established with the goal of providing Christmas joy to children, and their parents and carers, who have been impacted by the effects of domestic and family violence, homelessness, illness and injury.

In 2022, more than 25,000 items found their way into local homes.

And, that number’s expected to be eclipsed this festive season.

So much so, The Mutual Bank’s head office at Green Hills was transformed into Santa’s workshop this week as the team began to sort through the plethora of goods, from bodyboards to Barbie sets, clothing to vouchers, to name just a few things.

Even Maitland City mayor Philip Penfold popped in to lend a hand.

Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive co-founder Todd Sheldon, Mutual Bank CEO Mark Williams, Maitland City mayor Philip Penfold and The Mutual Bank’s product, marketing and sustainability manager Lauren Greenley.

“The response has been incredible,” Mr Sheldon said.

“We’ll actually outdo last year’s effort.

“[Today] is out first ‘sort day’, with less than half of what we have so far.

“Another 120-plus boxes need to come in as well.

“But, it’s the community, which makes this happen, I’m just the toy driver.

“And, due to the ever-increasing demand, we’ve expanded this time around to include Dungog, while we’ll be supporting more people in the Port Stephens area as well.

“Cost-of-living pressures have certainly made an impact.

“The uplift on our list from 2022 is about 35%; that’s massive.

“We’ll also probably end up assisting more than 2,000 kids.

“Plus, once we fill our quota for what our organisations need, if there are any groups out there that still need support, we’re happy to help.”

Starting with a request in 2016 from Maitland’s Reading Cinema to assist struggling families during the Christmas period, the Bolwarra clan donated wrapped gifts to a Wishing Tree.

From there, the idea of an annual toy drive was born.

“It is heartening to see that with every year, the support from the community and small businesses has grown,” Mr Sheldon said.

“That enables us to aid more and more families that are seeking assistance.

“We changed the name in 2022 to honour our mum and nanny, who passed away during our 2021 campaign.

“My mother was a catalyst for starting this and will be forever loved and missed.”

The West Maitland Centennial Lions Club was among the first to donate goods for the Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive. Photo: Rod Thompson

Mr Sheldon said he was overcome by the backing of The Mutual Bank, the Mayor’s Christmas Appeal and Hunter Legal and Conveyancing.

“I can’t be more grateful,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“To have an organisation the size of The Mutual Bank jump behind the Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive is huge and it ensures we will be here for the community into the future.

“Cr Penfold’s been incredible, too.

“Managing director Sue Mosley (Hunter Legal and Conveyancing) received a very sizeable donation from The Titan Group, so she’s going out to shop that.

“We’ll be able to add that to the mass already here.

“Having their support is wonderful, however it’s the community, which deserves the biggest praise.

“When things get tough, local residents continue to amaze me.

“Thank you to everyone.”

The Mutual Bank’s CEO Mark Williams said becoming a Platinum Sponsor for the Susan Roskell Toy and Gift Drive was an easy decision.

Along with a monetary donation, its team members wrapped the gifts bound for local charities to distribute.

“Each of our seven branches was a drop-off point for toys for the appeal,” he stated.

“Once again, our members and local communities showed their incredible generosity in supporting such a worthy cause.”

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