Arbutus Senior Center member leads charge to collect toys for Southwest Emergency Services

Nancy Cusic remembers growing up as one of nine children and what it is like to go without. She and her siblings filled their days with games like charades that didn’t require any toys, boxes or devices.

“I know what it’s like to not get any toys at Christmastime,” Cusic, 84, of Arbutus, said.

Still, she was taught to give back and that’s part of why Cusic started an annual toy drive at the Arbutus Senior Center.

For the last five years, Cusic has collected toys from senior center members to donate to Southwest Emergency Services (SWES) to distribute to families in need.

This year, Cusic set a goal of collecting 200 toys. As of Monday morning, she had collected 212 toys. In comparison, last year she collected about 160 toys.

Standing in front of a pile of board games, basketballs and other toys, Cusic said she asks people to donate toys for all age groups that work best if used in pairs or by groups of children so the toys are shared.

“Kids need somebody to play with,” Cusic said.

SWES collects the toys from the senior center and uses them as a part of its Christmas giveaway program.

Betty Okonski, director of SWES, said that during the agency’s Christmas giveaway event, a household is granted 25 points per child, which can be exchanged for toys. Okonski said a toy’s dollar value determines its point value.

SWES collects toys for all age groups. Currently, SWES is asking for Walmart gift cards to give to teenagers so they can choose their gifts.

This year’s Christmas giveaway event takes place Friday, Dec. 14 by invitation only. Families interested in taking part should call the SWES office at 410-2457-8154.

‘Way of giving back’

Cusic’s record of serving others throughout her life includes volunteering as Girl Scout troop leader, working as an employee of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, serving as a lay leader at a local church and a scorekeeper for the basketball teams at Arbutus Middle School.

“I’ve always worked with children; I believe in our children,” Cusic said.

Cusic now works at Arbutus Senior Center on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. She preps lunch, hosts fundraising bake sales, sells her own candy confections and decorates for different holidays.

Erin Browning, director of the Arbutus Senior Center, said Cusic probably brings in “5 to 10 percent of our fundraising revenue by herself.”

Most of that money comes from the candy that Cusic makes and sells at the center. She donates all proceeds to the center. Browning said the center has about 720 registered members and about 50 to 75 members visit daily, Browning said.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Cusic said.

Cusic was inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame in 2016, in part because of the volunteer work she does at the Arbutus center, which she has done since it opened in August 2010. She signed up to volunteer the day before the center opened.

“Someone asked me once if I could be any other age, what would I choose,” Cusic said. “I wouldn’t be any other age, because then I’d miss out on all the precious moments in my life.”

cboteler@baltsun.com

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