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The Donnellys make giving a family affair

(left to right) Nathan, Laurie and Jakey Donnelly pose with some bikes they recently donated. Jakey gives making a difference in the life of others a thumbs up. Reminder Publications photos by Natasha Clar
By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

LONGMEADOW Of the many things a parent could take pride in, watching the seeds you've planted in your child blossom has to be one of the most priceless. Laurie Sanders-Donnelly wanted to introduce her two sons, Jakey and Nathan, to the benefits of philanthropy and she has since had the pleasure of watching her boys take the reins.

In almost two years, the Donnelly clan has donated approximately 1,500 pounds of clothing, 50 boxes of toys, 25 blankets, 127 bikes, 50 strollers, 10 sets of dishes, linens, books and numerous cribs/play yards to Family Place and Our Place, combined. While the giving mother said her youngsters have organized drives in school and helped with collections, it is clear that Laurie is the horsepower behind this incredible donation force.

"I wanted the boys to be interested in helping people," Laurie said. "Why are we just getting rid of this stuff?"

The "stuff" Laurie is referring to are the items they have either collected from town recycling centers or have been donated to them by friends, classmates and family: bikes needing new chains, strollers in want of a good dusting and a clean empty crib in need of a home.

Others have become so inspired by their continuous donations throughout the year, that friends as far as Michigan and Washington, D.C. have FedExed donations to their Longmeadow home. Businesses such as Big Y and De Nardo Pizzeria have contributed food to help culminate successful drives hosted at Wolf Swamp School, where nine-year-old Nathan is a student.

"I try to teach them that there are people out there who don't have," Laurie said.

Jisela Davila, activities director at Family Place, said they appreciate everything the family does.

"We've been dealing with Laurie for like three years now and anything we want throughout the year -- car seats, cribs, clothes for certain genders -- they'll bring the van loaded with tons of things," Davila said.

Our Place and Family Place are two Holyoke-based shelters that offer individualized shelter units within a round-the-clock, staffed congregate shelter program. Both shelters are run by the New England Farm Workers Council. The Family Place has 61 units with over 237 children ranging from ages zero to 17.

"[Laurie's] wonderful," Davila said. "She came Tuesday and brought us eight bikes and toys and books ... I would hate to lose her. She's a great, great person."

Laurie was inspired to get involved by an article she read in the Republican in October 2006. Since then, the giving has been non-stop. Her house is constantly full of donations to be dropped off; even her garage is brimming with gifts. She thanked her husband Gerry for the generous relinquishing of his garage space.

She said she loves this form of donating because the items go directly into the hands of the people who need them.

"One of the best things is to drive through Holyoke and see kids on the bikes [we gave them]," Laurie said.

Neighbor Judi Cohen said that the work the family does is phenomenal.

"She makes sure [the bikes] work ... she does it all. She does a good job," Cohen said.

In a letter of thanks, Laurie expressed her gratitude for blankets crocheted by a Longmeadow school paraprofessional, reading and language programs, toy sets donated by the staff at LEGO and hours of time and energy from friends and family.

Davila said she has other giving persons who donate to the Family Place on a regular basis, in addition to the Donnellys, and she's thankful for all that they do. They receive donations from the clothing store Dots to handmade scarves from an 85-year-old woman.

"There's really, really great people out there, even knowing that the economy is crazy right now," Davila said.

The Donnellys are currently seeking donations of toys, batteries, baby strollers and play yards. Cash contributions are applied toward replacement bike parts, laundry mat expenses for washing donated items and transporting goods. Laurie also said any assistance in bike repairs is always welcomed.

"The big message is to have people recycle and give what they don't need," Laurie said, adding that some of these families move into the shelters due to circumstances such as domestic violence. "These families leave with only the stuff on their backs. [If you] buy something that goes through three families, you get your money's worth."

For more information call 567-5649 or send an e-mail to To learn more about Family Place call 536-2787.