A Vermont man, whose volunteer work is aimed at boosting the spirits of underprivileged children at the holidays, received a surprise at his workplace Wednesday in support of his charity toy drive.
"I was really surprised," beamed Troy Austin, a security guard at Burlington High School, who was greeted with an unexpected song and donations from BHS faculty, staff and students.
BHS community members had been secretly collecting donations to jumpstart Austin's annual charity effort known as Troy's Toy Drive, which started in 2015 and has grown steadily since then.
"Troy has always been such a great asset to our community," said Gussie Guyette, the student body president at BHS, describing why supporting the toy drive was something many wanted to do. "He's the best; he does everything for us. We've got to help Troy — he's the guy!"
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Last year's Troy's Toy Drive in Essex Junction brought in right around 1,600 gifts. They were then distributed through the Salvation Army, which has a large toy collection effort from individuals and businesses, known as Toys for Kids.
In a December 2021 news story, the Salvation Army's Burlington chapter said many of the parents it serves work busy schedules but were still having a hard time finding room in their budgets for extras like toys — with rent in the Burlington area and other household costs so high these days.
"They're just doing their best and they may just be doing enough to survive," Capt. Felisha Davis said in last December's news story. "At Christmastime, you want to be able to help someone like that, especially."
"It tells me that everybody cares for their neighbors and they really try to help, no matter who it is," added Jessica Nichols, who received toys and other items for her young family at last year's distribution event.
Austin has transformed his Nissan Rogue into an eye-catching Christmas car, decking it out in nearly 2,000 lights to advertise his toy drive.
This year's collection effort is Sunday, Dec. 4 from 4:15-6:45 p.m. at a new location: the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School at 104 Maple St. in Essex Junction.
Donors are asked to bring new, unwrapped toys. The organizer is already predicting another big haul.
"Near the end of the event, I'm like, 'Wow, this is amazing — I can't believe how many toys we got today,'" Austin said of the drive.
The eighth annual Troy's Toy Drive appears to be off to a strong start, thanks to the kindness of employees and students at Burlington High School, who created a large pile of donations as part of their surprise for Austin.
"I'm with joy right now," Austin said after the surprise toy reveal at the high school. "It feels really amazing!"