This is a photograph of James Vassalotti IV with his birthday gifts. But you’ll notice, this isn’t in his house: It’s in the lobby of the Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, where he donated the toys to others children for Christmas.
Indeed, he did more than that. Following a tradition his parents began with him several years ago, James, who just turned 8, actually picked out the gifts to be donated.
With his birthday coming shortly before Christmas, guests to his party are asked to bring gift cards. James then picks out toys he thinks other kids would like and buys them, then brings them to the hospital Toys for Tots bin with his family.
“I feel excellent that I donate toys to kids that don’t have any in the hospital,” he said in his Pelham home with his mother, Lisa Vassalotti.
His parents want to teach him and his younger brother, Joseph, to be generous.
“They do get so much,” said their father, James Vassalotti III, an architect. “They’re very fortunate. They get all the things that they really want. It’s a way for us to teach them that you don’t need everything.”
With Joseph, they take a different approach, buying gifts for pets and donating them to the SPCA of Westchester animal shelter in Briarcliff Manor.
They teach James to look for bargains, and to stretch the gift cards as far as possible. This year, guests brought about $300 worth of certificates to Toys”R”Us, Target and Barnes & Noble. James chose Nerf toys, action figures, books, a Dynamo Torch science toy, Candy Land and other board games, making sure to pick gifts for all children.
So how did James IV pick out the best gifts for girls?
“Tough one,” he admitted. (His mother helped.)
Each year, they make the donations anonymously, placing the toys by the bin, snapping a photograph and leaving.
“We put everything out in front of it that he buys and take a picture of it, and that’s his thank you card to his guests,” James Vassalotti III.
This year, a hospital official saw them and asked what they were doing. Touched by the gesture, the hospital staff asked if they wouldn’t mind making the good deed known to others.
The Vassalotti boys keep all the toys they get for Christmas, although toys are stored in the attic and brought down throughout the year, during special occasions or when they have done something praiseworthy, said their mother.
And his parents will buy him a birthday gift he truly wants from among those he picks out for others.
His parents said he gets a lot out of what has become a holiday tradition.
“He makes me very proud, because it’s not something he’s forced to do,” Lisa Vassalotti said. “He’s proud to do it.”