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Families brave cold at Sayville toy giveaway

They drove out from Queens on Monday night on a mission, bound for the parking lot at the New Life Community Church in Sayville.

Then, Kissha Chestnut and her sister, Tonya, waited for hours in the parking lot of a community center where the Lighthouse Mission was giving away toys for the holidays.

"It means a lot to us and the kids," Tonya Chestnut, 41, said.

"I had nothing for my son," she said, "and this, right here, saved Christmas."

Tonya has two children and had been laid off from her job at York College; Kissha has three kids and was laid off from her job. They made the drive, arriving about 8:30 p.m. Monday for the distribution at 9 a.m. Tuesday because, the sisters said, they wanted to be able to do something nice for their children despite the tough times.

The two sisters were not alone. They were among the more than 50 parents who came to the center, braving temperatures that had dipped into the teens, in hopes of getting toys for their children.

"It's a blessing and means a lot, especially, for the little kids, because they're already looking for Santa Claus," one of the hopeful parents, Latrice Norris, 38, of Shirley, said as she sat waiting in a Dodge Caravan.

Norris has nine children, aged 4 to 23. She said she had arrived at 7:45 p.m. Monday.

The pastor of the Lighthouse Mission, Jim Ryan, said that the mission had received between 5,000 and 6,000 toys for its annual giveaway, which was being held at the church in Sayville while its home church in Patchogue is being completed.

Tracie Neilsen, the organization's operations director, said Tuesday afternoon that three-quarters of their toy supply was gone. She said they would not have a final count of how many toys they gave out until sometime Wednesday.

"I anticipated more this year than last, but it was average compared to other years," she said, providing each family with two toys per child, two stocking stuffers per child, one clothing item and one stuffed animal per child, two books per child and a game and craft item per family.

As they received the crowds, one of the volunteers at the giveaway, Jack Fagan, 58, of Bayport, said: "We do this because it's the proper way to celebrate the Christmas season."

Some of those waiting in the lot made runs to a local 7-Eleven for coffee or hot chocolate.

Certainly, the Chestnut sisters were happy for the hot chocolate, but said they would have waited no matter the circumstances.

With John Valenti

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