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Tobias Liska is surrounded by items from one of the toy drives he organizes to benefit children in need.
Tobias Liska is surrounded by items from one of the toy drives he organizes to benefit children in need. (Courtesy Photo)

At 10 years old, like any kid, Tobias Liska tried his luck at a claw machine and won some stuffed animals. But after seeing the sad look on the faces of other kids who weren’t as fortunate as him to be a lucky winner, he gave his prizes away and was overjoyed by the look on their faces.

Since then he was hooked on making other kids happy like he did when he gave away his prizes. That’s when his mom helped him organize Toby’s Toy Drive.

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“It was actually really challenging because I had to get all the food donated from local grocery stores and, as a kid, it’s hard to call a grown adult and be like ‘Hey, give me free food.' You don’t really know what to say," said Liska, now 19.

According to Liska, the toy drive really helped him speak to adults at a young age and see the generosity of his community — like when a local Shoppers, now closed, gave him 500 doughnuts.

For the past nine years, Liska has held the toy drive in Carroll County with the goal of collecting toys for less fortunate children.

Collection boxes are set up in various locations in the county as part of Toby’s Toy Drive. Freedom Area Basketball League has a box set up at St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church’s gym, at 2275 Liberty Road, and other boxes are set up at Freedom Realty, at 2028 Liberty Road No. 100, and Big Dipper Graphics, at 2030 Liberty Road No. 4.

The drive has previously been a part of an event called Breakfast with Santa that was held at Hoppers KidZone, which closed earlier this year, leaving Liska empty-handed on a venue to hold his event. Liska decided to still hold the annual toy drive, just without the event.

Liska now studies neurology at Assumption College in Massachusetts, so working on the drive was a little more difficult starting last year. But he had the help of his siblings to push him though.

“I kind of had my siblings help me out,” he said. “I still made phone calls from up there when I needed to, but I kind of told them what to do — kind of delegated that situation and then during my breaks when I would come back, I’d help make some of the flyer, I’d help make some of the letterheads that we had to send to the stores for donations for the Breakfast with Santa.”

It was also harder for Liska recently because he started playing football for his school. But he still wanted to make the drive happen one way or the other.

“I had to put a lot more time and effort into that than I did last year,” he said. “It kind of slipped away a little bit and the Hoppers Kidzone, where we had the Breakfast with Santa for the past eight years, closed down, so that kind of messed it up a lot, too. We had to basically start from scratch, and it was hard to think and find a place to do that because we were going to do it.”

Even though Liska couldn’t find a space for the Breakfast with Santa event, he still knew that he wanted to provide toys to some kids who might now get them this year.

According to Sarah Liska, Tobias’ mom, he has always showed great care for not only the drive, but for whom the drive benefits.

“He understands that he’s giving back to other people, and he has changed where he’s donated because he was donating to human services, but they had actually almost too many toys at one point. So, he switched over to donate to the hospital,” she said. “He actually pays attention to who needs toys and where they go. So, I feel like it’s because he really cares.”

It is how much Tobias cares that make his mom so proud, she said.

According to Sarah, the drive covers a wide range of toys for kids of all ages.

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“One thing that’s really important for him is stuff for teenagers,” she said. “So I know that it’s not just little kids that he’s focused on. He’s very aware of the teenage population.”

This year the toys collected from the drive will be given to children of the Johns Hopkins Hospital cancer ward and the Boys & Girls Club in Westminster.

Seeing the support of the community each year is what pushes Tobias to keep holding the drive.

“Just to see how much one little thing can go so far, that kind of was the reason I kept doing it," he said. “Obviously, I don’t get to see the kids’ faces when they get the toys, but I just kind of imagine them getting the Christmas they wouldn’t have. That idea kinda of keeps me going — that and the turnout from it.”

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