Karen English remembers how bad she felt around Christmas time two years ago, when she realized she probably wouldn't be able to afford presents for her son, Emory.
Her car broke down about three months earlier, and while she was able to buy a new one, she knew that meant scaling way back on the gifts for Emory, whose birthday is on Christmas Eve.
"By the time Christmas and his birthday came up, I was in tears," Ms. English said. "I was like, 'There's nothing I can do.' "
Her plan was to try to celebrate her son's birthday as much as she could and basically forget about Christmas altogether -- no deliveries from Santa, no decorations.
That's when she expressed how upset she was to Gwen Marcus, the director of Robin's Nest Daycare Center, where Emory, who turns 7 today, has been going since he was 5 months old.
Ms. Marcus said she could arrange something with Toys for Tots and told Ms. English not to worry. She said Emory deserved gifts for his birthday and Christmas.
"I love this place," Ms. English said of Robin's Nest, a quaint day care center on Perrysville Avenue on the North Side. "The ladies are great, the day care is just wonderful. They treat all the kids like they're their own, and they take special care of the kids."
Toy trucks, children's books and stuffed animals line the shelves of Robin's Nest, which takes care of kids ranging from 6 weeks old to second grade and is owned by the Reformed Presbyterian Home across the street.
Tiny coats and gloves and scarves hang from hooks on the wall in the playroom that awaits the children who finish their breakfast. Plastered prominently above the assorted toys and books is a poster of the food pyramid.
"For some of these kids, it's the best meal of the day," said Sandy Delancey, an administrative assistant at Robin's Nest. "Some kids come in and you can just tell they haven't eaten or had a good meal. And it's not that the parents don't care. It's just hard when they're trying to go to school or working or running around with their kids."
Ms. Delancey said the day care center, which was started 16 years ago, watches about 20 children -- many of whom come from families either at or below the poverty line.
"Our goal is to provide the children with a good environment and have them school-ready so they have the best chance at succeeding," said Ms. Delancey.
Mothers like Ms. English are grateful for the services Robin's Nest provides. Especially around this time of year, when, as she knows all too well, times can get tough.
She and Emory will be able to celebrate his birthday and Christmas again this year -- without having to sacrifice one or the other -- thanks to Robin's Nest and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
"He's gotten radio control cars from Toys for Tots, action figures, all the stuff for boys his age," Ms. English said. "He was quite happy and so was I. It was just great. It was wonderful."
Donations to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Goodfellows Fund benefit Toys for Tots and in turn help out organizations like Robin's Nest, where Emory and the other children received toys Friday as they went home for the weekend following their Christmas celebration.
You can donate to Goodfellows using the coupon in the newspaper or online at www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows. Every donation is acknowledged in the Post-Gazette.
Today's total: $6,915
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Brian Batko: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published December 24, 2012 5:00 AM