Braddock mayor leads Lego giveaway

Folks from all over took home 7,500 sets

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Stationed in front of a warehouse on Braddock Avenue, the line of people stretched back along the block.

Young and old, black and white, they braved the 20-degree temperatures on Christmas Eve morning to receive a gift of free Legos, being given away by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman and the community's Free Store.

The Legos -- 95- and 97-piece kits from the Legends of Chima series -- had been donated to Free Store by Kids In Distressed Situations, an international charity based in New York.

The organization donated 30,000 pounds of the building sets to Free Store, and they were given away there and as part of the Braddock Holiday Drive and Party on Saturday.

But, when Mr. Fetterman realized that they still had thousands of the kits left, he realized he had an opportunity to help families in need from all around.

The borough announced on local news outlets Monday that the Legos would be given away Tuesday morning, and word spread like wildfire.

Thain Biswas traveled to Braddock from Friendship.

"We have friends with kids who need gifts," she said. "We thought we could share this with them."

She also planned to send a few back to her family in India.

"This is phenomenal because Lego is such a creative gift for kids. The act of building something. It fuels creativity."

Dressed in shorts, boots, a jacket but no hat in frigid temperatures, Mr. Fetterman stood at the bed of his black Ford F-150 pickup truck, with cases of the Legos thrown haphazardly in the back. As each person approached, he quickly asked, "How many kids?"

And for each child, the person received three gifts -- A Legends of Chima Furty, Eglor and a SpongeBob Lego key chain.

Individuals were leaving carrying cases of the building blocks.

Between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., they gave away about 7,500 Lego sets.

Ed Mogus, a sergeant with the Allegheny County Housing Authority police, volunteered to help pass out the kits.

"Everybody's very appreciative," he said.

Braddock police Chief Frank DeBartolo, agreed.

"It's nice to know you can do things for the general public in times of need," he said. "To see the expression on some of these people's faces, it's worth it."

Sgt. Mogus described it as "extreme thanks."

It wasn't just residents of Braddock who were able to take advantage of the free Legos. People traveled from other local communities, and from as far away as Fayette and Westmoreland counties.

Martha Cullens traveled from Wilkinsburg to get sets for her five grandchildren.

Two of her children don't have a lot of money to buy gifts, she said, so it would be nice to help them.

Ms. Cullens said she would give the sets to one grandson, but the others would be arriving from Santa.

Amira Webb, whose father was the former mayor in Braddock, traveled from Penn Hills, also for her five grandchildren, who range in age from 6 to 14.

"It's nice they decided to extend it to others," she said.

Vernessa Tymous of Homestead called the giveaway a "godsend."

"It think it's a wonderful thing," she said. "It will help a lot of people."

For Robert and Phyllis Balint of West Mifflin, they stood in line to get Legos for their grandson, Logan, who is 8, but also for Mr. Balint's brother, Jim, who lives at the Kane Regional Center at Glen Hazel. They planned to take the kits to the activity room there.

Families with children were prioritized in the line, Mr. Fetterman said, but he'd gotten requests from a number of organizations, as well. By the end of the day, the groups that benefited, too, included the Brentwood Library Lego Club, Unity Baptist Church, ACH Clear Pathways, Braddock Fire Department, Pittsburgh Helpers, Ruth's Way Inc., Penn Hills Kiwanis Club and the Urban League Guild of Greater Pittsburgh.

"Every last Lego kit is out there," Mr. Fetterman said. "I hope in some small way we made people's Christmas a little better."

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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