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Mending Hearts Broken By Stolen Toys

Cafe Ena owner looks to refill stocks of toys taken from Minneapolis nonprofit.

When burglars broke a hole in the window of The Family Partnership’s offices, they might have broken something more precious at the same time. Toys and other presents taken that night had been donated to brighten the Christmases of 150 low-income families across the metro.

"This is going to sound cheesy, but it made me think immediately of the 'Grinch Who Stole Christmas,'” said owner Erin Ungerman. “It broke my heart a little. I understand that there are people out there who’re hard up and do things that you and I can’t understand because I’m not in their shoes, but still!”

Ungerman said she found out about the theft almost by accident—she had already set up a cocktail date with a good friend who worked as a social worker for The Family Partnership. Ungerman worked with the nonprofit to set up a way for her to collect material donations from customers at her two restaurants, Café Ena and El Meson, within a few short days. The Family Partnership offers counseling, social services, and preschool education to poor and low-income families across the Twin Cities.

Ungerman said that she feels a donation drive like this is a more meaningful way to celebrate Christmas than a stereotypical gift extravaganza.

“I love the holidays, but the part that I have trouble with is the buy, buy, buy,” she explained. 

When she launched the drive, Ungerman said she was a bit nervous that she wouldn’t be able to gather enough donations on such short notice. 

“I’m a busy person—I have two kids, I run two restaurants—but when I do something I’m going to give it my 150 percent,” she said. “It’s one of the great things about owning your own business and being in the community. I don’t have a lot of money and can’t donate a lot to charities, but I can use my position in the community to help people.”

Ungerman’s efforts including a party Tuesday night where the guests were encouraged to bring a toy donation in exchange for a small bottle of champagne. With that and an outpouring of support from others around the metro area, The Family Partnership has already been able to recoup its losses, and then some.

“It’s been great,” The Family Partnership’s Chandra Kavati told Patch. “It’s really significant that people are stepping forward to help.”

Kavati, the Partnership’s Vice President for Development, said the support was all the more essential after a church that had typically sponsored around 20 families in past years had to pull out at the last moment. The donations quickly took up that slack, too.

Still, more needed, even for the families the nonprofit already serves. Kavati said staffers noticed that preschoolers arrived during the recent cold snap, she noticed many not only were missing boots, but many weren’t even wearing socks.

Ungerman said she is now urging customers to bring a donation of winter cloting if you come to dinner or stop by for a visit, along with toys for toddlers and younger children. For a full list of what’s needed, check out Ungerman’s website.

Alison Dunkelberger December 15, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Cafe Ena/El Mason is also donating food for the cast of Annie at Ramsey Fine Arts. The kids are talented and the musical is going to be fantastic. Most kids at Ramsey qualify for free or reduced lunch, so the donation means so much to the Ramsey community. Thank you Cafe Ena and El Mason! Please support them by patronizing them.

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