By Carolyn Marnon – The story starts with a little boy in Kosovo whose only knowledge of Christmas is time spent with friends and family. There are no presents involved in these Christmas celebrations. In Kosovo, “You are lucky if someone had a car,” says this now-grown boy, Scott Gocaj, manager of US 12 Bar and Grill in Wayne.
Scott, his siblings (John, Cindy and the “late, great Skender” who died in 2003) and his parents, Mike and Mona Gocaj, arrived in the US after immigrating from Kosovo in 1979. Mike and Mona built a family business with Omega Restaurant (now US 12) where they worked hard for their American Dream. Scott says he would spend his days bussing tables, filling cups of coffee and cleaning, all at a very young age. “Christmas was a busy day,” he recalls. But it would be 7-8 years after coming to America that the Gocaj children would learn that there was more to Christmas than spending time with family.
Older brother John injured his leg during the Christmas season one year and had to spend time in the hospital. The family would frequently visit John. One day there appeared 3 giant garbage bags full of presents in John’s room with someone telling John to share it all with his family. Scott says he doesn’t know who collected all these toys they received, but “I’ll never forget it,” he says. This was his first American Christmas experience, and he loved it! He remembers the Get Along Gang toys. The Get Along Gang was a group of animals who met in an abandoned caboose and told stories of friendship and teamwork. At the time, Scott wondered who gave them the gifts and why the gifts were given to them, but “the cat was out of the bag!” he exclaims, and there was no returning to life as it was. Every year since, the family has given each other gifts at Christmas. He is thankful he and his siblings can now give their own kids the Christmas experience.
Scott, his wife Rachel, and the rest of the Gocaj family want to pay it forward which is why US 12 Bar and Grill will be hosting their 4th annual Toys for Tots charity toy drive on Saturday, December 14, from 6:00 p.m. until closing.
“The event is near and dear to our hearts because it helps kids around our area that are less fortunate to make sure they aren’t going without a Christmas,” said Scott. Scott, John and their friend, Pete Cimeot, decided in 2016 to throw a party and get all of their friends together because “there’s no way we could do anything by ourselves that will make a difference, but collectively, with our friends and some local business owners, we are able to form a team that makes a difference together.”
With John as his mentor and biggest motivator, Scott has set a goal to fill the stage at US 12 with huge boxes filled with toys that will then be delivered to the Toys for Tots local chapter. “All are welcome that care to help,” says Scott about the event. “Please share, spread the word. It’s not about us. It’s about the kids. Together, we make a difference.”
Admission to US 12 (34824 W. Michigan Ave.) for the charity event is either a new, unwrapped toy or a cash donation to Toys for Tots at the door. Help make a child’s Christmas dream come true. No child should go without a toy at Christmas. Be part of the team!
If you are unable to attend the event but still want to help, you are welcome to drop off a new, unwrapped toy during US 12’s regular business hours through December 16.
Did you know?
• Toys for Tots was started in 1947 by Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks when his wife asked him to deliver a few of her handmade dolls to an agency that helps children in need.
• Walt Disney was a personal friend of Bill’s and designed the first Toys for Tots poster.
• When Bill could not find an organization to donate his wife’s dolls to, she told him to start one. That year, 5000 toys were collected and distributed by Bill’s reserve unit.
• The Marine Toys for Tots Program now distributes an average of 18 million toys to 7 million less-fortunate children annually.