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Two programs bring joys and toys to kids [Cockeysville column]

Towson Times

Santa's helpers got an early start this holiday season at Cockeysville Middle School when the National Junior Honor Society held an Operation Christmas Child packing party.

The enthusiastic middle schoolers put together 318 shoe boxes of treats, toys and crafts that will be delivered to children in need around the world.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoe boxes to more than 150 countries. In many cases, these shoe boxes are the first gift a child has ever received and the goal this year is to distribute 12 million boxes.

Eighth-grader Will Stocksdale, president of the NJHS, was the driving force behind the project and he was excited to bring it to his school because of his previous participation with the program. He believed that the NJHS could come together to pack a significant number of boxes and he sure was right.

Fifty members of the NJHS, along with , adviser to NJHS, other teachers and community partners, collected donations for the boxes and helped the students surpass their goal of providing 250 boxes. Best of all, Will explains, is that "All of the boxes are in the same room right now but soon will be bringing happiness to children all over the world."

As a UPS man, Felix Guinto delivers packages throughout our local area, but it's in his role as the head of Guinto's Helping Hands Foundation that his deliveries really have an impact.

For the past six years, Felix has collected and distributed toys to sick children at places like the Kennedy Krieger Institute, The Ronald McDonald House, The Believe in Tomorrow House at Johns Hopkins, and to children at St Vincent's, Sarah's Hope and various Head Start programs. What began with a simple collection of 500 to 1,000 toys at Christmas time has now grown into so much more.

Felix credits the death of his mother as the inspiration to bring the foundation to the next level. Felix's mother was stricken with cancer in December of 2011 and quickly passed away. That year, many urged him to skip the toy drive given his long work hours at UPS and his mother's declining health, but Felix chose to continue and with the support of his co-workers, friends and the community. He collected an astonishing 8,500 toys that holiday season.

"Regardless of what life gives or how bad things might be, you can always give back if you want to," Guinto said.

In particular, he remembers the silence in the hospital when his mom was sick, so he now finds that nothing feels better than bringing a toy cart into the hospital and putting a smile on the face of a sick child. He makes three to four visits to local hospitals each month with three huge toy deliveries during the holidays. Guinto's Helping Hands Annual Toy Drive is under way and donations can be made on Friday, Dec. 2 from 7 p.m. until 10 p.m. at Mother's North in Timonium. The Fells Point Surf Shop at Kenilworth Mall will also be collecting toys all season long.

For more information, please visit www.guintoshelpinghands.wixsite.com.

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