Caroline Previdi was the kind of child who was always thinking of others.
“She realized at a very young age that she was blessed, and she wanted other children to be able to have gifts underneath their Christmas trees,” said Sandy Previdi, Caroline’s mother. For two years, Caroline took money from her piggy bank to St Rose Church and donated it to the Knights of Columbus Toy Closet. The program offers toys and gifts to parents and children who might not otherwise be able to purchase them, for holidays or birthdays. Caroline learned about the program through announcements in the church’s bulletin, and talked about it with her parents, her mother said.
Markus Balas, chairman of The St Rose Knights of Columbus toy program, remembers the young girl fondly.
“Caroline would come to me or Monsignor Weiss with the money she had collected by doing chores or other work throughout the year, and donated it to us so that we could buy toys for the less fortunate,” he said.
“She said she would save all year, and put some money aside so that some poor children, or less fortunate children, would have something for Christmas,” said St Rose Grand Knight Tim Haas. “She showed up at the church with a bag of coins.”
Caroline was 6 years old when she was killed at Sandy Hook School on 12/14. In lieu of flowers, Sandy and Jeff Previdi asked that donations instead be made to their daughter’s favorite charity.
The response was so overwhelming that the St Rose Knights of Columbus made the decision to rename their toy closet. It is now called The Caroline Previdi Toy Chest.
“We received an outpouring of donations from across the country, and around the world, to what was the toy closet,” said Mr Haas.
Mr Balas said he began considering the idea a few months ago of renaming the program that helps residents of the greater Newtown area.
He brought his idea before the Knights of Columbus board members, “and they all thought it was a good idea,” he said. During a regular assembly meeting the idea was brought up for the full Newtown council. The vote to adopt the new name and an updated mission passed unanimously, he said.
The new mission of The Caroline Previdi Toy Chest is “to carry on the spirit of Caroline’s selfless generosity, and to provide for families of the community the resources to bring joy and happiness to children in need and to assist with specified charities,” according to a release provided by the Knights. The Previdi family, according to Mr Haas, “has been very much involved with the formation of the mission statement, and how we are moving forward from the generous donations we have been receiving from the people across the country.”
The Christmas Closet at St Rose was created in 2006, following a suggestion by Knight Jim Tevnan. By June 2007 the Knights had decided to rename the offering The Knights of Columbus Toy Closet, and expanded its operation to a year-round offering.
The closet’s aim has always been to benefit children of any family who has encountered hard times. The St Rose Knights have also offered toys and gifts from the closet to local hospitals and women’s shelters.
“There are toys and gift cards available for families who may have their child going to a party, or have a gift exchange event at school, so their child can bring something to the event. They don’t have to go empty handed, they have something to participate with,” said Mr Haas.
Caroline made her donations to The Toy Closet for two years. She died last year before she was able to make her third annual donation. Thanks to the request by Sandy and Jeff Previdi, however, Caroline’s generosity will live on.
“This remains a mission the Knights will continue for many years,” said Mr Haas. “We will be well funded, and it will be a great, charitable event that we will be able to continue and participate for years to come. It’s going to be a great legacy that Caroline will be leaving for all of us to enjoy for many years.”
Mrs Previdi said she and her husband were very touched by the decision of the Knights.
“We were very honored, and knew that this would be a wonderful way to celebrate Caroline’s life, and how she lived her life,” she said. “Caroline was a very compassionate child. She always tried to put a smile on all her friends, and everyone she came in contact with. She wanted others to be happy.
“Her teachers told us every year that she was a child who, if someone was having a sad moment, or a sad day, she would try to cheer them up. She was just life to the fullest, she was just a happy child.”
In previous years the Knights have offered special evenings so that parents can select toys to put under their Christmas tree.
New, unwrapped toys and gift cards are being collected at St Rose Church, 46 Church Hill Road, until December 15. Donations can be left in the large boxes wrapped in Christmas paper in the vestibule of the church, at 46 Church Hill Road.
On Sunday, December 15, from 6 to 9 pm, the upper floor of the Knights of Columbus Building (same address, to the northeast of the church building) will be opened for parents to visit for Christmas. Anyone in need of assistance this holiday season is welcome.
“You do not have to be a member of St Rose, or even a resident of Newtown,” said Mr Balas. “We don’t care about nationality, or religion. We don’t ask questions, we don’t take names. We’re just here to help.”
Parents who wish to visit The Caroline Previdi Toy Chest during the year can call Mr Balas to make arrangements. He can be reached at 203-449-7190.