IMPORTANT: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has changed the application process for emergency rental assistance! Click here to learn more

2022 Way Finders Toy Drive: Making it happen for kids (and their moms)

December 23, 2022

Over the course of two days at our Springfield Housing Center’s conference room, the items we received and purchased for our annual Toy Drive were carefully sorted by age groups—from infant to age 13—and arranged on tables. A big stack of Walmart gift cards for older children was at the ready. And then our housing case managers arrived, whenever they could swing by, with their lists of children. They went from table to table, pushing carts or filling boxes, carefully matching children with items.

Everything from stuffies and slinkies to lunch boxes and Lunch Lady books. Footballs, soccer balls, fleece coats. Lots of baby dolls and crinkly, tactile baby toys. Putty, modeling clay, scratch art. Diaries, board games, scooters. 

Housing Case Manager Lisset Lolandes-Acosta (“Elf Lisset”) came in full costume. Her striped socks made a few rounds of the tables—with exclamations over some toys (“I love this milk carton plushie! And the Mrs. Potato Head, I like her”). When her cart was near to overflowing, she packed up her items in large tote bags and brought them to her car. 

Lisset was shopping for the families she supports, who are living in Way Finders’ Emergency Shelter Programs and other properties. Hers were among the more than 700 children living in shelter.

“Thank you so much, this is absolutely amazing,” says Lisset. “Families are really struggling, some of my families are undocumented, they have no source of income, they really don’t have anything. We are beyond grateful to be able to provide for our families, with coats, books, fun stuff, gift cards. This time of giving is, for me, so exciting, that’s why I dressed up! So it’s amazing on my end, and it’s amazing on their end. The giving and the receiving.”

When she’s not assuming Elf duties, Lisset wears a host of other hats—as revealed when asked about what else was on her to-do list for the day.

“A family of mine just received a housing voucher. They’ve been in shelter for a very long time, it’s a single mother who has children with disabilities, so this is something big for her! I’ve got to call a couple landlords, so she can go see some apartments,” says Lisset. “And I need to find a pediatrician for a family that just transferred from Boston, they can’t seem to find one. So I’ll call around to see who takes MassHealth. I also need to do two unit inspections today, to see if they need any repairs.”

Another phone call on Lisset’s list was less transactional. “I currently have a family that just moved to an emergency hotel. I’ve got to call her to make sure she’s OK. To give her just a little support.”

Empowering women is the best part about her job, says Lisset, who first joined Way Finders’ Rental Assistance department in 2021.

“It’s very personal to me,” says Lisset. “I’m a single mother. I had my kids really young, I had my daughter when I was 17. I went through the whole process of going through domestic violence, going through shelter, having to rebuild myself as a woman, raising my kids by myself. This is personal to me, giving back. Because once upon a time, I was receiving services too.”

From her perspective, the Toy Drive is really about moms.

“The kids don’t need to know where the gifts come from! We’re making it happen for mom, making things a little better for mom. Life is hard enough for moms. Letting them know that someone has their back, that someone’s there to support them, that’s definitely a gift.”

Thank you, from all of us at Way Finders, to those who supported our Toy Drive!


A note of special thanks to our amazing employees! For turning our Springfield Housing Center into a magical Winter Wonderland, via a host of decorations, and for supporting our Toy Drive with such generosity and festive gusto!