Teen Project donates $15K in gift cards to teen patients at NYU Winthrop

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Ashley Carlo, manager of the Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital, top row, left, and Nicole Almeida, director of NYU Winthrop's Child Life Program, top row, right, with members of the Teen Project, top row, from left, Matthew Spirakis, Steven Spirakis, Luke Schmitt, T.J. Schmitt, and bottom row, from left, Ashley Kalb, Morgan Mandel and Delaney Zander. The Teen Project donated $15,000 in gift cards to the hospital. (Photo courtesy of NYU Winthrop Hospital)

Teens across Long Island joined together for the Teen Project, an annual gift card drive for teenage patients at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Hagedorn Pediatric Inpatient Unit and its Cancer Center for Kids.

This year’s drive broke the record for the drive, which was founded in 2014 by Steven and Matthew Spirakis, two brothers from Garden City, collecting over $15,000 in gift card donations – nearly double the amount raised the prior year, according to a Winthrop news release.

“We learned that the hospital often receives toy donations for young patients, but seldom receives appropriate gifts for teen patients,” Steven Spirakis said. “Filling this need was a simple undertaking on our part compared to the afflictions with which teen patients must cope.”

Matthew Spirakis said what makes him most excited is the campaign spreading across neighboring communities more each year.

Teen Project expanded when the brothers partnered with T.J. and Luke Schmitt, of the Garden City-based Charlie’s Champions Foundation, Delaney Zander of Garden City, and Ashley Kalb and Morgan Mandel of Dix Hills.

Together, the teens garnered community involvement including participation from members of the Miracle Club at Garden City High School, from the National Junior Honor Society at Garden City Middle School, from seventh- and eighth-grade religious education students at St. Joseph’s Church and St. Anne’s Church and from South Huntington and Half Hollow Hills School District students.

“This campaign is very important to me because it allows me to help people that are my age, from my community, who are going through treatments,” Delaney Zander, who attends Garden City Middle School and St. Anne’s religious education program, said in the news release. 

The hospital received “boxes filled to the brim with gift cards,” according to the release.

The Child Life Department at NYU Winthrop distributes the cards to teen patients throughout the year, both for holidays and birthdays, according to the release.

One donation was a holiday “gift card tree” that teen patients can choose cards from.

“The assortment is incredible, with a gift card to appeal to every teen we treat,” Ashley Carlo, manager of NYU Winthrop’s Cancer Center for Kids, said in the release. 

Beth Spirakis, the mother of the project’s co-founders Steven and Matthew, said that “it is humbling to learn about the emotional journeys families face.”

“The creation of this gift-giving program presented a wonderful opportunity to show teen patients some compassion,” she added. 

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