Ensuring children have toys all year long

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Thursday, December 7, 2017

Michelle Maxia sorts toys at Toy Box Connection on Oct. 30. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Michelle Maxia quit her job as a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy to stay home with her kids, she started cleaning out their toys to donate the ones they no longer used to charity. 

“As I pulled up [to the charity] I watched a mom come out with all of these toys and I felt so good until I watched her get in her Lexus,” she said. “I put the car in reverse and said, ‘This is not where it’s going.’”

She called around to some charities she knew from her days as a deputy and asked if she could bring her toys there. Through those calls she learned there was no local charity just dedicated to supplying toys to children and youth in need throughout the year. 

Soon after, she went to her parish, St. Michael in Orland Park, and shared the story with some other moms, saying she thought starting this kind of charity was something God was calling her to do. 

“The next week the moms start showing up with toys. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘Michelle, you don’t just think things. It came to you. This is yours,’” Maxia said.

That was 10 years ago, and was the beginning of Toy Box Connection. 

It started in Maxia’s garage. She collected gently used toys from friends and family and then was connected with business doing new-toy drives. 

Maxia wanted to make sure the toys went to kids most in need, so she worked with charities directly. Partners include Catholic Charities, burn camps for children and battered women’s shelters. She gives first priority to requests for toys from military installations in Illinois. 

The charity grew and is now in a large warehouse in the Lakeview Plaza shopping center at 159th Street and LaGrange Avenue. 

“From my garage we have connected over 2 million toys with children,” Maxia explained. “The nice thing that has happened is since then we’ve evolved in an incredible way. We have tons of places, businesses that do new toy drives during Christmastime,” she said.

Through Maxia’s network of donors, Toy Box Connection receives enough toys to meet the demand for young children. They always need more games and toys for teens, both boys and girls. 

With every toy goes a book because she believes “they should go together.”

Toy Box Connection offers both new and gently used toys. While some programs only want new toys, Maxia points out that many of the “gently used” toys are still in the box or show no wear at all.

“The toys that we get are in absolutely pristine condition. There’s nothing wrong with them,” said Maxia, who has never taken a salary for this work.

Last year when Catholic Charities lost a major source of toys for its annual “Celebration of Giving” and found they were very short on toys, they became aware of Toy Box Connection, which came through with thousands of new toys on short notice.

“They are wonderful,” said Melissa Dicesare, the volunteer relations manager for Catholic Charities in charge of this year’s toy drive. “They are sponsoring three of our sites this year, one of which is one of the largest with over 100 families. That’s two toys per child so they are giving a significant donation to us.”

Toy Box Connection was already giving to some of Catholic Charities programs but wanted to help more, Dicesare said. 

“They have been absolutely generous in making sure we’re set this year as well as coming in last year and helping us too,” she said.

Maxia gives all the credit to God. 

“This is his. This is not mine. He’s called me to steer this ship. So when I go away this doesn’t because this isn’t mine,” she said. “I’m the instrument. So many things happen that my volunteers don’t understand and I don’t understand but they’ve all learned to just go, ‘OK, we can’t wait to see.’”

She gave an example of a woman dropping off toys from her company’s toy drive. The company produced items for babies like strollers and car seats. In her car the woman also had 13 brand new baby mattresses. 

She asked Maxia if she could find a program that could use them. Absolutely, she replied. She went into her office and called up a charity that works with families bringing new babies into their homes and told them about the mattresses. 

“My contact said, ‘Michelle, I just left the homeless shelter and there are 13 babies sleeping on the floor. May I have them all?’” Maxia said. “I want the connections to be the right ones. When certain things come through I’m not in a hurry. He’s given them to us. We have to be thoughtful.”

For information or to donate, visit or call 708-691-2715.


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