Students and officials visited the hospital to hand deliver toys that were collected throughout the community.
The toy drive started due to the efforts of Jeff Tarallo, a former Social Studies teacher at Memorial High School, who began the drive in 1995 after his son recovered from cancer.
Tarallo wanted to show his students the importance of giving back and organized a toy drive in which students would personally deliver them to sick children at the Children's Hospital.
Many different groups helped with this year's drive. It was spearheaded by Four Foundation, which is a nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds for cancer that Tarallo began in 1996. They received help from the Aurora
Fitness Center for Women of Ridgefield, Charles A. Lindbergh Elementary School, and a church in River Edge. Memorial High School served as a drop-off point for toys and PPHS students also gathered toys.
The group was able to collaboratively gather nearly 200 toys for distribution at the pediatrics center of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, which is now called the Children's Hospital of New York Presbyterian. They successfully reached their goal to give each child one stuffed animal and a toy.
According to Tarallo, 21 students attended including 17 seniors from Memorial and four high school students from PPHS.
The students, who are all members of the student council, made the trip with Sheila Culhan, faculty coordinator of Memorial, and Anna LoPiccollo for PPHS.
In addition, Tarallo, and other administrators including Superintendent of PPHS Mark Hayes, Assistant Principal of Memorial Gene Pagnozzi, Assistant Principal of Alternative Education Alina Mendoza, and Principal of PPHS Nicholas Cipiano joined the students.
Tarallo's son Chris, who is a permanent substitute teacher at PPHS and a cancer survivor, was also in attendance.
The toy drive was the 12th one in the history of Memorial, which recently began collaborating with PPHS.
Memorial officials dressed up as Bugs Bunny and Santa Claus to bring cheer to the patients. Motivated by personal experience
"[Our family] saw the pain of childhood cancer," said Tarallo, who retired from teaching this past June. "We saw how terrible it is for kids to be sick."
In 1994, Tarallo's son Chris was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. At the time, Chris was a 14-year-old high school freshman at Palisades Park High School.
After successfully being treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, the Tarallo family decided to create the Four Foundation, a group dedicated to raising funds for cancer research.
The family joined forces with Dr. Jeff Bruce in order to receive guidance. Bruce was Chris Tarallo's surgeon and is head of the Brain Tumor Research Lab at Columbia-Presbyterian.
"When [the procedures] were done, we wanted to give back," said Tarallo. "We wanted to do something to raise money for brain cancer research."
Bruce also currently sits at Four Foundation's medical board of directors.
"[Bruce] was significant in guiding us with fundraisers and different things," said Tarallo.
Teaching them compassion
Pagnozzi commends the efforts of Tarallo and the organizations involved in educating the students while contributing to those less fortunate.
"Some of our kids come from tough situations," said Pagnozzi. "This is an opportunity to thank God for what you do have: your health and your family."
The Tarallos appreciate what the hospital did for them, Pagnozzi said.
"[Jeff Tarallo] want[s] to repay what he may think is a miracle," he said, adding that Jeff "has always been a class-act. I have nothing but respect for him, as a teacher and as someone involved in the organization."
In addition to working with Memorial High School, the Tarallos also received help from a familiar face.
Peggy Daniel, a one-time student of Tarallo at Memorial, helped Four Foundation with the drive this year. She plans to host other events including a wine-tasting fund raiser in the future.
Daniel owns the Aurora Fitness Center for Women in Palisades Park's neighboring town of Ridgefield.
Vice President of Four Foundation, 28-year-old Chris Tarallo was thrilled to work with the fitness center and said that he believes they will have a successful working relationship.
Daniel lived in West New York until her high school graduation, and participated in the drive with Tarallo when she was a student.
Daniel said that she decided to work with Four Foundation as opposed to larger, national charities so she could be more hands on.
"[Four Foundation] has been a part of me throughout my early adult life," said Daniel, "Now I'm at a point where I can do more."
Daniel donates the enrollment fee from her fitness center to Four Foundations. Daniel said that she recently lowered the fee from $100 to $25 so that more people would participate.
"I don't do it because I feel I have to donate," said Daniel. "I do it because I want to help people." For more information on how you can contribute, call (201) 805-1260.
To comment on this story, e-mail NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.