1,000s of Toys, Unquantifiable Joy

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A woman and a man smile for the camera. The man is taller and to the right, and he has his right hand around the woman’s right shoulder. The woman is leaning into the man’s right shoulder. The man is wearing a blue suit, tie and glasses, and the woman is wearing a blue dress and pearl necklace.
Beverly and Pete O’Neal

The excitement is palpable as patients gather at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s downtown Baltimore campus on a mid-December evening, waiting for hundreds of first responders to arrive in their police cars and fire trucks. When they hear the sirens and see the first car, cheers erupt. The toys are almost here!

Riding in that car are Beverly and Pete O’Neal, founders of the It’s Kindertime Toy Drive, which for the last 25 years has been delivering toys for children in Baltimore facing health and other challenges.

Pete is a retired award-winning producer and cameraman at WMAR-TV, where he and Beverly created and produced “It’s Kindertime,” a children’s television show. In 1998, the couple founded the toy drive in honor of Pete’s mother, Jeromia O’Neal, who was murdered in 1993, and the police officers who tracked down and apprehended the person responsible for her death.

“We wanted to do something to honor them, help people and bring the city together,” Pete explains. Once a year, a convoy of police cars and fire trucks filled with toys wends its way through Baltimore—lights flashing, Christmas music playing and Santas waving from the trucks.

“We’ll go through neighborhoods where police are often investigating homicides, but on this night, it’s different,” Pete says. “People are waving to us from their front porches. It’s an evening of mutual respect.”

We feel so blessed to be able to provide something for people who truly need it.” – Pete O’Neal

The convoy stops at several locations, including Kennedy Krieger, to deliver toys collected by Beverly, Pete and first responders throughout the previous year. At the Institute, they drop off thousands of toys and sing holiday carols with patients and staff members. It’s an unforgettable burst of holiday joy and good will.

For the O’Neals, who received Kennedy Krieger’s annual community service award in May of 2023, this night is the best part—“giving out the toys, seeing the kids’ faces light up, the singing, and the camaraderie between the community and the first responders,” Beverly says. “It’s all so uplifting.”

“The toy drive makes us so happy,” Pete adds. “We feel so blessed to be able to provide something for people who truly need it.”