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Published: Tuesday, 12/23/2008

Rossford boys mount drive to benefit Toledo-area charities for needy families

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Second in a series

Angie McDaniel's boys know that Christmas is about the joy of giving and spending time with those they love.

It's easy to forget that during the hustle of holiday shopping and parties, but the McDaniel boys reminded many - through their actions - that presents are the least important part of the holiday season.

The boys, ranging in age from 8 to 14, gave up their Christmas -time birthday celebrations - last year they had a fun party at a bowling alley - and instead held a donation drive to give their "presents" to charity.

Dakota Thomas, who turned 14 on Saturday, Austin McDaniel, who will be 11 on Monday, and Kennedy McDaniel, who is turning 9 on Jan. 3, said it was one of their best birthdays ever because they got to help others.

Even the youngest, Tyler McDaniel, 6, who has a summer birthday, wanted to help and donated two of his Christmas presents.

"It was pretty exciting to see the people's faces," Austin said. "It just really showed us what the real meaning of what Christmas is."

Kennedy found out that a few years ago his own family Christmas was made possible with outside donations and came up with the idea for the charity birthday party to give back.

"Once we didn't have enough money to pay for Christmas presents for us, so people helped us," he said.

"I thought we should help people."

He asked his brothers - and Dakota said sure right away.

Austin admitted it took him a little convincing to join in, but he did and was happy he did.

"When they told me the idea, I kind of ran with it," Mrs. McDaniel said, adding she was so proud of her sons' idea to pay it forward.

She helped them get the word out and invited the entire Rossford school district and a number of community agencies.

The "birthday party" was held on Dec. 13 and the boys collected truckloads of clothing, toys, and some canned goods for the Aurora House, a transitional home for women in North Toledo, and Operation Breadbasket, which collects items for the needy in the area.

They didn't add it all up, but it was at least a thousand items that the boys helped to deliver that day.

"For them to see what they did, with the moms helping carry it in, was a gift to them. It was a gift for me," Mrs. McDaniel said. "They may be kids, but they can still make a difference."

Dakota, the eldest, said spending time with these families who needed their help changed his outlook on the holidays.

"It's more important to have family at Christmas," he said. "And, you know, I saw how good I have it."

Denise Fox, executive director of the Aurora House, said she was surprised it was the idea of these young boys and was impressed how passionate they were about it.

"These kids said, 'Well, you know a few years ago we didn't have gifts and people stepped up because we wouldn't have a Christmas without people helping. So we wanted to help people have a Christmas,'•" Ms. Fox recalled.

"When Austin was telling me this, I teared up."

Ms. McDaniel said she didn't tell the boys at the time, but about five years ago money was tight. She was worried about having a Christmas for her family and sought the help that her sons gave out this year.

She later let them know about the people who made a difference in their lives.

Annie Herman-Alrabaya, a Perrysburg Township police dispatcher who is co-chairman of Operation Breadbasket, said that more than 100 families were helped by this year's donation drive.

She said more children than many would think do indeed volunteer.

"There are kids that are helping, and believe me some are young kids, and it's a good thing," Ms. Herman-Alrabaya said.

The boys said they get their inspiration from their mother and father, Troy McDaniel, who is Dakota's stepfather.

The parents volunteer in church; their mom spends several days a week at Eagle Point Elementary School, and their dad has been an assistant band director in the Rossford district.

And the boys want to keep on giving.

Dakota spoke with Ms. Fox about giving the families at the Aurora House a reason to celebrate year-round, not just at Christmas time. They're thinking about having monthly birthday parties for the mothers and children there.

"When you see kids like this, you can relax and know there are good kids out there and how much they care," Ms. Fox said.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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