Absegami’s World Language Honor Society, Key Club and Spanish Club’s Pooja Patel, 16, Mrs. Aurora Boyette, Gabrielle Hughes, 17, Orlando Juarez, 18, and Nicolette Rollo, all from Galloway, discuss the Toys for Tots drive they are running during a recent interview held in the school’s library. Photo/Dave Griffin

Few things put one's blessings into perspective quite like a natural disaster.

Absegami High School World Language Honor Society President Nicolette Rallo, who is coordinating the group's annual Toys for Tots collection drive, said Hurricane Sandy has given the group extra urgency this year.

"People are in such need of extra help, especially at Christmas time, financially and just, people losing everything," Rallo said. "We want to really give back and help in any way that we can."

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The group, along with the school's Key Club and Spanish Club, has been collecting toys for the annual Marine Corps program, which gives toys to underprivileged kids and nonprofts that serve them, since mid-November. Students are asked to bring new, unopened toys into homeroom for collection by members of the three organizations.

They are also accepting donations from the general community, which can be dropped off in a collection box in the school's foyer. This is the first time they have taken contributions from outside the school.

While all members of the three organizations are encouraged to participate, a committee made up of Rallo, honor society Treasurer Rolando Juarez and group members Gabrielle Hughes and Pooja Patel has led the way.

Each member of the committee has used their expertise to cover a different area of the effort. Hughes, who made a commercial for the school's TV station, said the students have made the drive more than the sum of its parts.

"It's a really good cause and we kind of have different attributes that would help us do whatever we're doing," Hughes said.

"Since I'm in media, I can help with Gami TV, and (Juarez, Patel and Rallo) are good at being leaders, they can help collect and stuff."

Aurora Boyette, a Spanish teacher at Absegami and the society's adviser, said she first encountered Toys for Tots in 2006 when she and the group volunteered to help distribute toys as part of a celebration of Three Kings Day in Atlantic City. The Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County, which organized the event, had gotten its toys through Toys for Tots.

Impressed by how well-organized Toys for Tots was, Boyette has had the society hold collection drives for the organization each year since 2007, with the exception of last year. They also continue to volunteer as part of Three Kings Day.

This year's effort has gotten off to a slow start, but that's typical of high school students, Boyette said, adding that she expects a late surge before the drive's Dec. 18 end date.

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