PALMYRA — The Green Angels, born out of the “giving it forward” philosophy, has grown over the past 10 years into one of Wayne County’s most prominent volunteer service organizations.
Along the way, its founders, Bill Doyle and Marya Vande-Doyle, have inspired area residents to donate toys, books, clothing and other items for children in need across the county. Hundreds of volunteers assist throughout the year to solicit, organize and deliver donations. Schools, Scouts, book clubs, churches and other groups hold donation drives on behalf of the organization.
And scores of volunteers pitch in for The Green Angels’ annual Holiday Free-Cycle, held in early December. The initial event was the group’s first large-scale giveaway. The Doyle’s family and friends had collected items to make area children’s Christmases a little brighter. About 50 families showed up at the Palmyra Community Center for that first Free-Cycle, but in the following weeks, word spread and the couple received numerous requests from people inquiring if items were still available.
Today, the Holiday Free-Cycle attracts hundreds of families in need and inspires untold volunteers to embrace the season’s giving spirit. One of the event’s most ardent supporters first helped out as a young boy, donating his own toys that he had outgrown.
Rory Sloan, now 15, and his family, who live in Palmyra, started donating when the organization was new, and their involvement has grown to become a regular part of their holiday season.
“The Free-Cycle event has become how I kick off Christmas,” Sloan said. “Ever since I was little, I’ve liked knowing that I can make a positive impact in the community.”
“I love knowing that (through our efforts) kids can have stuff in time for Christmas. Kids just like me.”
“Rory is an amazing helper for us each year,” said Bill Doyle, “especially in helping clients shop and load their vehicles with items they pick up at our event.”
A member of the Class of 2021 at Pal-Mac High School, Sloan is so committed to volunteering at the Holiday Free-Cycle that he insisted on missing a wrestling tournament last year because it fell on the same day.
“Most kids would not make that decision!” Doyle said. “He really impressed us.”
It’s clear the organization has had an equal effect on Sloan.
“The Green Angels has taught me a lot of lessons,” he said. “It’s made me grateful for what I have and taught me to give and not take.”
This year, Sloan plans on being at the Free-Cycle, Dec. 8 at Sodus High School, with his entire family — mom Diane, dad Bob and younger sister Autumn. Even his grandmother will make the trip.
“Whoever wants to come, whoever wants to make a difference is welcome to volunteer,” Sloan said, who has encouraged many of his friends to help out over the years. “You’re never too young or too old to help out.”
Volunteers are needed to organize items the day before or hand out items to families on the 8th. And if you show up, odds are you’ll see Rory helping out wherever he’s needed.
Initially the Doyles conceived their efforts would consist of this single, annual giveaway, but they soon realized that the need was much greater. Today, donated items are delivered by Green Angels volunteers year-round, with the greatest needs falling in early January and August, before the school year begins. The group receives daily referrals from the Wayne Behavioral Health Network, Wayne County Public Health, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, Victim Resource Center, Wayne County Rural Health Network and Wayne County school districts and now serves more than 1,000 children annually. It also provides food for families in the summer, when children don’t have access to school meals.
For those on the receiving end, there is no selection process, no application to fill out, no requirement to provide proof of income. (The organization does, however, require clients to sign a liability waiver.)
Currently, Green Angels houses items in storage units in Rochester and Palmyra. Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES has donated space at its Williamson site where students help sort, label, box and store clothing. The effort would benefit from a single Wayne County site where all items could be stored in one place and in a more organized fashion than is possible with storage units, where boxes are piled floor to ceiling. Eventually, “a center of giving,” where volunteers could gather would further aid its mission. Grant support from several organizations — including the Bullis Fund of the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Saunders Foundation — is allowing the group to consider buying a building for its headquarters.
Ten years in, two part-time contractors now do the work on a much larger scale than the Doyles used to do. One serves as the point of communication, coordinating and scheduling the donations and deliveries. The other is a former client who makes deliveries in a van purchased with a Bullis Fund grant.