Teen reels in community to help with Toys for Tots

Local News

EAST SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — 13-year-old Luke Liedka’s Toys for Tots boxes have already filled up this holiday season, but the pandemic hindered their normal means of distribution through the school districts.

So, the family had to think fast to figure out how to get all of these toys out to those in need before Christmas.

“We’ve been using social media, which is a brilliant tool and it’s helped us find far more families,” Luke’s dad said. “It’s amazing how many families have come forward.”

The Liedka family offered curbside contactless pick-up and delivery for families in need and said they have served roughly 70 families with over 2,000 gifts donated.

Luke’s baseball team also stepped up to the plate this year and joined in on the toy drive, something his coach was more than happy to take part in.

“There is a big need for it every year,” Dickie Woodridge, Luke’s baseball coach, said. “Not everybody is as fortunate as others, but this year in particular, a lot of job loss and a lot of people struggling. And, if we can do our part to help Luke and help this cause that’s what we’re going to do.”

For the past five years, Luke and his barber, Sam Failla, owner of Sam’s Barber Shop in East Syracuse, have collected with Toys for Tots to help kids and families have new gifts for the holidays.

“I’ve always looked for an opportunity to do something in the community, and it just so happens, you know, he had the idea and we just brain stormed and it’s been working great,” Failla said.

Right now is as good of a time as any to give back.

“I think this year is even more so the year that we have to give. There are so many people that are suffering, that are out of work, or can’t see families, and the kids especially when it comes to schools and not being able to see friends or parents that are struggling financially,” Failla said.

Luke is no stranger to lending a hand in the community. Luke also helped raise money for the American Legion after it was robbed in 2017. He has also raised thousand of dollars to improve East Syracuse’s Veterans Memorial Park.

“I felt like I needed to do something and make East Syracuse a better place and make sure kids have something to play with,” Luke said.

Luke hopes to one day pass the tradition on to his siblings, Jack and Hannah, so that they can also make a difference in the community. He’s already been working with them to help him.

“It’s nice to know that I have more help especially right at my house where I could just talk to them and ask them questions, and they could always help me with anything I need,” Luke said.

Luke’s parents say they couldn’t be prouder.

“Every year he continues to give and knowing he’s the big brother of two siblings he’s setting a fantastic example for his siblings, and I look forward to seeing what the three of them could do in the future together,” Luke’s mom, Kim, said.

“It really blows me away. For the maturity to have embraced that, to put others first, it’s a message that some people don’t get in an entire lifetime,” Luke’s dad, Dan, said.

In 2015, Luke was presented an award with the Marine Corps, which presented him with a challenge coin. This sparked his mission to operate the Toys for Tots Drive.

“When I look at these [coins], it reminds me that there’s always more that you can do,” Luke said.

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