West Philly friends donate toys and coats to neighborhood

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "This whole neighborhood is special to all of us," said Leonard Chester.

Chester, a teacher at Dobbins Technical High School, has poured countless hours into paying forward all the love and life lessons he received as a child.

Over the years, he has seen both the positive and negative sides of living in West Philadelphia.

'We call 60th Street, 'The O,' and what The O represents is a lot of danger, harm, gun violence and drugs," he said. "But I took The O and created, 'The Overcame Foundation.'"

He started the mission in 2015 to help provide for youth in the neighborhood where he grew up. Among the complex needs of his community, he noticed their hardships surrounding the weather and holidays during the winter.

That was part of the impetus behind organizing a toy and coat drive at the end of 2020. Now, a year later, the family affair has become an annual tradition.

"We roughly raised around, like, $10,000 this time," he said. "This is a $7,000 jump from last year."

Friends, family, and local businesses rallied to donate roughly 250 coats and 700 toys including gaming headphones and basketballs. Free haircuts and food was also provided to guests.

The location, Commodore John Barry Elementary School, is particularly significant for those who organized the event.

"We met a lot of our childhood friends in this schoolyard," said Davone White. "It wasn't really too many people doing this stuff like this back in the day."

By standing in the gap with gifts, White hopes kids will have positive experiences that lead to positive choices in the future.

"As long as we are living, there is always going to be somebody that needs something, you know what I mean, no matter where we are at and we just want to make it easier on families and stuff like that," he said.

Families in attendance seemed happy to receive a helping hand.

"I'm very grateful that you guys are here in an unfortunate neighborhood to give out toys and clothes," said Jacqueline Ross. "A lot of us this year couldn't afford that. So it's a wonderful day and everybody's happy."

Chester and friends hope to expand the scope of their toy and coat drive to include various types of resources throughout the year.

"I just hope that we could be some inspiration to the kids around here because you can be raised in this neighborhood and make something positive out of it," he said. "But you know, someone has to lead that charge and, you know, we'll be that charge."

To learn more about The Overcame Foundation, visit their Instagram page.

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"Some of these people don't have families to go home to," said Michael Cunningham. "So, my family is here to be their family on Christmas Day."

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