Northampton’s holiday Toy Exchange returns this weekend at high school 

  • Diana Riddle, left, and Karen Thomas, both holiday Toy Exchange volunteers, prepare Dec. 14, 2019, for the annual event coordinated by Northampton’s ReUse Committee and the Department of Public Works at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 11/29/2021 12:03:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s free holiday Toy Exchange, held for nearly a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the 2020 event, returns this weekend with a new location and new organizers.

For the first time, the exchange will take place at Northampton High School, 380 Elm St. The Northampton Kiwanis Club is sponsoring this year’s toy exchange, which will be managed by the high school’s Environmental and Key clubs.

Anyone who donates a toy at the high school during intake hours — Friday, Dec. 3, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. — will receive a ticket for early entry into the toy exchange held on Dec. 4. Donors can shop for toys on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the general public is admitted at noon.

“It’s free shopping, basically. … It’s like a giant toy store,” Peter Rakelbusch, one of the event’s longtime coordinators, said. The exchange used to be run by the Department of Public Works, but now, he said, “The idea is to really get the kids involved.”

This year’s theme is “Kids Recycling Toys for Other Kids,” and a central goal of the event is to keep toys out of landfills.

Donated toys should be clean and in good condition, with all pieces present and intact. Organizers are seeking children’s books, games and puzzles in their original boxes, baby and toddler toys, dolls and accessories, costumes and model cars, trucks, trains and planes. Outdoor play items are also accepted.

In 2019, the community donated more than 5,000 toys for the exchange.

Rakelbusch said donors provide “Himalayan quantities” of stuffed animals every year. The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Thrift Shop will take the extra stuffies, wash them and sell them. Leftover toys may also go to the Salvation Army, he said.

“We do end up with about a pickup truck” worth of broken toys and loose puzzle pieces, which will need to be discarded or recycled, he said.

Some low-income residents will be contacted ahead of time and offered early entry tickets without the need to donate.

Attendees can bid on certain higher-end items in a silent auction. More details of the auction are forthcoming, Rakelbusch said. Proceeds will be donated to the Environmental and Key clubs to support their own charitable efforts.

Organizers ask attendees to follow COVID-19 public health guidelines and the city’s mask mandate, which requires mask-wearing indoors and also outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

If weather forces officials to cancel school on Friday, intake and the Toy Exchange will be held next weekend, Dec. 10 and 11.

Brian Steele can be reached at 


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