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Christmas bash for Astoria kids almost a no-go

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (second from l.), along with Santa Claus, pose with gifts they collected for Kani Toure, 10; Amy Toure, 9; Ashiana McLamb, 11; and Ahmed Toure, 3. They were some of hundreds of Astoria Houses residents who received Christmas presents. Photo by Rebecca Henely
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Hundreds of good little Astoria Houses children received toys from Santa Claus last Thursday in an early Christmas celebration that almost did not happen.

The East River Development Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to helping public housing residents in western Queens, planned to hold its holiday fair with food, arts and crafts and gifts for the children at its office, at 4-25 Astoria Blvd.

Unfortunately, the sponsors for the toys backed out shortly before the party, said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

The councilman, who attended ERDA’s holiday fair last year, was eager to help.

“It was such a huge success and they do such a good job,” Vallone said of last year’s party.

Vallone did not name the sponsors and ERDA officials said that no one backed out, but Vallone stepped up.

On Nov. 28, Vallone went to his Facebook page. In a post, he asked his followers to bring unwrapped gifts for kids of all ages to his district office. He also formed a partnership with Quontic Bank, an Astoria- and Great Neck-based bank, which paid for about half of the toys.

Through donations of toys and money, he and his staff were able to get 250 games, dolls, trucks and more, allowing the celebration to go on with every child getting a present.

“It helps to have 7,000 friends when you’re looking for some toys,” Vallone said.

Not only did the councilman help supply the toys, he helped supply Santa. When Santa Claus’ original helper backed out, one of Vallone’s staffers put on the red and white suit and posed for photographs with the children.

Vallone and his staff helped deliver gifts from 3 p.m. to about 5:30 p.m. The councilman said the line for toys was out the door, and they ended up temporarily running out at one point and had to go back to the office for more, which had been delivered by residents who gave to the toy drive at the last minute.

“It was nice to be able to see the smiles on these kids’ faces and spread some joy,” Vallone said.

Carly Hoffmann, a spokeswoman for ERDA, said the turnout was great, as it was every year, and that local diner Bel-Aire provided the refreshments.

“We are so glad to share the holidays with community members in western Queens and to provide gifts courtesy of Council Member Peter Vallone Jr.,” ERDA founder and President Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor said in a statement. “There is no better way to celebrate the end of the year than gathering together with the families that make our community in western Queens so strong.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 5:04 pm, July 9, 2018
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