The co-founders of Polititeen, a podcast by students at Alliance Academy, recently organized a toy drive at their school, providing handmade, wooden toys to underprivileged kids in the community over the holidays.
Varoon Kodithala and Damian Galvan held the drive at Alliance Academy on Dec. 4, partnering with Peter LeGrand, a Chicago school teacher who also starred as a guest on an episode of the Polititeen podcast, to bring handmade toys to Forsyth County for student volunteers to decorate and personalize with a handwritten note for a child to receive on Christmas.
Kodithala and Galvan turned to the Raúl Garza Foundation, a mentorship club that they started at the school, to find 40 volunteers who all came in and decorated the toys. Originally the two wanted to invite kids to decorate their own toys, but they were unable to due to COVID-19 restrictions.
At the end of the day, the team at Polititeen had 87 decorated toys, which they delivered to the Place of Forsyth the same day to later be delivered to kids on Christmas.
Kodithala said that they felt inspired to give back to their community this year as their podcast has grown and given them a platform they can use to help others, especially those impacted by the pandemic.
“[We just wanted to] provide that extra cushion of support to distribute joy to the kids across our community who don’t get that usually during this season,” Kodithala said. “We hope to do it for quite a long time. The drive was an amazing success.”
All in all, Galvan said they succeeded not only in bringing joy to kids on Christmas with a gift, but in bringing members of the community together during a difficult time and fostering conversations they believe are important for community members to be having right now.
Originally, the two wanted to hold a more traditional toy drive by raising money to buy toys and provide them to the Place of Forsyth County as a donation. To get the drive started, they promoted it on their own podcast, and they reached out to Blaire Erskine, a comedian who also appeared as a guest on their show, to help get the word out.
She ended up posting about the drive on Twitter where LeGrand saw it and decided to reach out to Galvan and Kodithala. The school teacher in Chicago let them know that he usually makes wooden toys for kids in low-income communities each year in his city, but because of the pandemic, he was not able to this year. He suggested that he would instead bring the toys to Forsyth County for them to use.
When LeGrand was on the podcast as a guest, he shared that his grandmother and mother are both Holocaust survivors, and he shared that many American children don’t realize that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
“With Polititeen, we’re not just here to talk about politics,” Galvan said. “Our ultimate goal is to have informative conversations, [so] we decided to include that as part of our toy drive initiative — to inform individuals that this was something that happened that we can’t let happen again.”
While the volunteers were decorating the toys during the drive, Galvan and Kodithala passed out a letter that LeGrand wrote about similar difficult subjects, bringing people together physically and emotionally with informative conversation while also providing toys for others.
The two 16-year-old students say they are excited they were able to hold the event this season and bring others together in a meaningful way, and hope to continue with events like this in the future.
“It takes one Christmas gift to maybe impact someone and send them down the right path,” Galvan said. “It takes one thank you, one ‘how are you doing’ in the hallway, being able to maintain eye contact when someone is venting out to you. It takes these small, little things.
“Obviously, me and Varoon didn’t donate $10,000 or $100,000 as some individuals are fortunate enough to do, but what we did do was impact as many people as we possibly could in the position that we’re in.”
They both are already planning for their next event, a drive to deliver flowers to single mothers and fathers in the community on Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.
They are currently looking for partners in the community to help gather donations for the flowers and to create a list of single mothers and fathers in the community who they could deliver the flowers to. If anyone in the community is interested in getting involved or knows someone who could use a flower themselves this Valentine’s Day, they can contact Kodithala and Galvan by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By holding drives and events such as these, Kodithala said they hope to reach out to those in the community who feel forgotten or like they do not belong.
“Individuals from all backgrounds should feel like they belong and have a place [in the community],” Galvan said.
For more information, visit polititeen.com.