Samara Francis’ eyes danced Thursday morning as she spotted the toy she had been coveting high atop the shelf at Matty’s Toy Stop in Hewlett: The Play-Doh Magic Swirl Ice Cream Shoppe.
“That’s the one I want!” the jubilant 4-year-old told her mom.
Rakisha Reape presented the toy to her daughter, who responded with a hug and “I love you.”
Reape, 44, and Samara have been living in a homeless shelter in Hempstead for the past three months. They were among dozens of families who were given $100 gift certificates to spend at the toy store on Christmas Eve, a present funded by the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association and the Nassau County Police Department Foundation.
Reape, a home health aide, broke down in tears as she expressed thanks for the generosity that made Christmas gifts possible for her young daughter.
“I didn’t have . . . money at all to buy . . . ” Reape began, before the tears started flowing, “ . . . my daughter anything, so this just helps me so much. Without this, my baby wouldn’t have nothing.”
James Carver, president of the PBA, said the organizations spent $11,500 on the gift certificates for 115 children — the second year of the event, which included a Santa roaming the crowded aisles as kids selected their toys, and a police horse and military-style Bureau of Special Operations truck parked outside the store.
“Oftentimes these kids, these families, are calling 911 because of a bad situation happening. . . . This is to sit there and show we’re just like everybody else,” Carver said. “Kids get to come and see police in a uniform and show that the police are the good people, too.”
Carver said he enjoys this event, which was attended by several officers and acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, because unlike a typical toy drive, the kids get to pick exactly what they want.
“If this doesn’t warm your heart, there’s something wrong with you. You don’t have a heart. . . . Most of us are spoiled. We assume that everybody in the world wakes up Christmas morning and underneath their Christmas tree there’s gonna be a load of presents. Unfortunately, there are many people that don’t have that same experience that we have.”
Charles Gross, 48, of Hempstead, had to leave his Mastic Beach rental when superstorm Sandy hit. He’s been homeless since. Gross, a truck driver, and his son Motley Gross, 6, loaded up on toys using one of the gift certificates. Motley picked out dinosaurs, trucks and Power Rangers.
“It’s a blessing; Thank you,” Charles Gross said as he and his son were about to board a yellow school bus for the ride back to the shelter. “It breaks down a lot of barriers, as far as you know with the police and citizens. It lets them know that they ain’t always bad, police officers. You gotta let the kids know that.”
Eric Blumencranz, chairman of the police foundation, said his group put $5,000 toward the gift certificates this year.