Delia Shea [Jeff LaBonte photo]

Christmas toy drives are nothing out of the ordinary, as people share their giving spirit with those less fortunate. Toy drives in February are less common. That is exactly what Auburn Middle School student, Delia Shea decided to do to benefit young patients at Boston Children’s Hospital.

To date, nearly 700 toys have been donated to Shea’s drive and are stacked in the administration offices at the Auburn Middle School. The toy drive will run through March 21.

According to Shea, her first toy drive was started last year out of a need to do something positive.

“There was a lot of things, not so good things, going on in life, and I just felt like I needed to do something positive” she said. “It also needed a connection to something, and Boston Children’s made sense.”

At the age of four, Shea herself was a patient at BCH where she had to undergo a heart surgery and extended stay in the hospital after doctors discovered she had a potentially life-threatening heart condition.

“I don’t remember that much about the surgery” Shea said. “But I remember they [BCH] had these ‘treasure boxes’, where the patients could take a free toy to play with and that made me really happy.”

Shea decided this would be her distraction; she would put her energy into collecting toys for other patients at BCH, and bring them some happiness as well. At the time, Shea was a 7th grader at Leicester Middle School. Shea reached out to LMS principal, Joyce Nelson, with her idea for the toy drive.


Toys that have been collected are stacked in the AMS administrative office [Jeff LaBonte photo]

“Mrs. Nelson was really supportive. I was able to do morning announcements [about the drive], and I spoke in front of a school assembly” said Shea.

That drive collected over 400 toys. This year, Shea and her team believe they are on track for 1,000 toys. Her ‘team’ consists of National Junior Honor Society advisers Sherri Watson and Melissa Dupuis; Principal Joseph Gagnon; Secretaries Sabrina Heiniluoma and Maura Goulet; fellow NJHS students, and, of course, her parents Allison Shea and Richard Shea.

After moving to Auburn last year, Shea started 8th grade at AMS in September.

“This is so great, especially for a new student” said NJHS adviser Sherri Watson. “It’s wonderful to see the rally and support from students and the community” she added.

There was a nice surprise in store this year. Delia was nominated for the 2017 Worcester Magazine Hometown Heroes Award based on her work with the Leicester Middle School toy drive. While Shea did not win the award, the awards event was lucrative for Shea.

“One of the other nominees from Harvard Pilgrim [Kate McEvoy-Zdonczyk] announced that she was donating $500 to each of our [award nominees] causes” said Shea.

Said NJHS adviser Melissa Dupuis, “We’ll be going out shopping with that money to purchase even more toys!”

Speaking of awards, Shea is one of two students nominated this year by Principal Joseph Gagnon for a JFK Make a Difference Award. Every year, the Kennedy Library recognizes up to 100 middle school students from across Massachusetts with the John F. Kennedy Make a Difference Award for the impact they have made in their communities through service projects. The award is given to students who are nominated by teachers or principals for contributions they have made to their neighborhood, town or community.


Keeping track of toy donations on the wall outside the AMS cafeteria [Jeff LaBonte photo]

“I have to say I am very surprised at the results so far, and the number of donations is going to even go higher” said Gagnon. “We did a toy drive at Christmas for AYFS, and families were so generous. Then we asked them to give again and it’s amazing what this community does.”

There were some incentives for the students to participate, and a little bit of competitive spirit thrown in.

“We pit the homerooms against each other, and the top homeroom got a pizza party” said Dupuis. “Then we had the three grades compete, and the top grade get music at lunch for a week.”

The Auburn community is also invited to get involved. Four local businesses have agreed to host donation boxes from now through March 21:

Liberty Tax Service – 850 Southbridge St. Westside Plaza (Open 8am to 9pm weekdays, 8-5 on Saturday and 11 to 4 on Sunday)

Pakachoag Acres Daycare – 141 Auburn St. (Open 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday)

Weepin’ Willies – 64 Auburn St. (Open 8am to 6pm every day)

Starbuck’s – 434A Southbridge Street (Open 5am to 8:30pm)

Donations may also be dropped at the Auburn Middle School, 9 West St., during normal school hours.

On March 23, the plan is to load up the toys and a contingent from AMS will travel to Boston Children’s to deliver the toys. Along with Watson and Dupuis, Shea will be joined by fellow NJHS students Lydia Kirkorian, Morganne Lucier, Katerina Bonos, Isabella Doyle and Ally McGill.

With three weeks left to go in this year’s toy drive, Shea is already thinking about next year. “I’d like to continue it at the high school” Shea said. “Or maybe I will help to be the coordinator for another Middle School toy drive.”