20 years on, foundation continues to honor teen lost too soon
MOUNTAINSIDE — In the summer of 2000, 13-year-old borough resident Ryan Faella died suddenly. Ever since, his parents Al and Mary, supported by a large local network of relatives and friends, have been dedicated to remembering their son through a number of community events and initiatives.
The Ryan Patrick Faella Foundation remains mostly based in Union and Essex counties, but Al Faella said this year, when so much has changed and so many lives have been upended, the group's efforts to spread goodwill are covering more of the Garden State than ever before.
Throughout most of each year, the foundation concentrates on raising scholarship money for local youth, having awarded $180,000 since 2001, according to the group's website.
Traditionally, the Faellas also sponsor events like a golf outing and a 5K run/walk.
It is another of the organization's annual hallmarks now drawing attention as we enter the holiday season, the 20th edition of Ryan's Toy Roundup.
Prior to this year, more than 13,000 toys have been donated and distributed to kids in need of a holiday pick-me-up.
And while there still will be an in-person drop-off in Union on Dec. 12 — organized by cousins of Ryan's who are Elizabeth firefighters — Al Faella said he personally will be doing a lot of the rounding up in the coming weeks.
"I will be picking up (toys), along with some others, traveling statewide, so actually we will be covering the entire state, mostly children's hospitals and youth centers and places like that," he said.
Keeping in mind that it is not just kids who are struggling in 2020, the donation drive is expanding beyond toys too.
"We've asked folks to donate gift cards as well, if they would rather do that than toys, because there are folks who need food and need some of the essentials as well, so that's been a little bit of a change," Faella said.
Through Mary Faella's connection with the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association, drop-off locations are being set up in Cliffside Park, Denville, Little Falls, Martinsville, Metuchen, Park Ridge, Roseland, Secaucus, Wayne, and Westfield. That's in addition to the traditional drop-offs at the Union County Administration Building in Elizabeth, Mountainside Borough Hall, and DJ's Limousine Service in Garwood.
Al Faella credits the staying power of the foundation to the efforts of people both in the public and private sectors in many of these towns, who help with distribution, promotion, and donations — whether identified or anonymous.
For more on the foundation's mission and complete information on drop-off sites for Ryan's Toy Roundup, visit ryanfaellafoundation.org.