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Inside the _____ Your Stories

Inside Michael Zappola’s Passion for Toys for Tots and Community Service

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This is one of a series of stories we are sharing to show what’s inside CubeSmart. You not only get a peek inside our teammate’s service but also a peek inside what is important to them. Thank you to Michael, a teammate at our CubeSmart store in Bordentown, for sharing his story with us.

"My favorite movie is Miracle on 34th Street," says Michael Zappola, general manager of the Bordentown, NJ Cubesmart location. And it seems that Michael has created his own miracle on Route 206 every winter, with a hugely successful Marine Toys for Tots campaign at the store.

When he first joined the Bordentown team over four years ago, there were boxes in the window at holiday time, but if anyone noticed, they didn't bother to drop off donations. Michael, who spent much of his youth volunteering for various causes including Toys for Tots, decided to take matters into his own hands.

His first change was to ensure customers were aware of the drive. Each year, as early as September, he puts a sign out front, giving them plenty of time to prepare. Near the sign, he hangs a large wreath given to him by a customer who has since moved away as a thank you for his help during their time at CubeSmart.

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The festive atmosphere continues inside, where he decorates the store with greenery, ornaments and figurines, many of which are family heirlooms. Indeed, these holiday collectibles are among some of his most cherished belongings, the things he believes are "made to keep."

"In my own storage unit, I have a china closet from my great-grandmother and when I can move into my own place, I will someday use it to store my family's Dickens Village figures."

At home, Michael hangs a different wreath his grandmother won in a holiday party raffle, back when she worked at Abraham and Strauss before it was bought out by Federated Department Stores—another echo of Miracle on 34th Street. In fact, Michael is one of a long line of family members who have worked in the retail business, so he has an instinctive knack for both marketing and customer service.

"People see the store and they get into the holiday spirit, and the toys start rolling in," he says.

In fact, the toys have been rolling in so steadily over the past few years that Michael started calling Toys for Tots headquarters for multiple pickups. And when that didn't contain the overflow, he gave some of the donated goods to other CubeSmart locations to fill their boxes. The effect, he says, has been positively contagious, with those employees inspiring drives at their spouses' places of business and so on. Last year, the haul totaled over one thousand gifts with more than twenty pickups, and this year the store broke its own record.

Even when the lights and tinsel come down, Michael continues giving, like the Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, he likes to go above and beyond to help customers, whether that's directing them to the nearest store to resell old CDs and DVDs or assisting them with an apartment hunt.

"For me, a lot of it goes back to being part of the LGBTQ community and the lessons it's taught me about listening, giving back, finding joy and helping others," he says. "My mother has also been a big influence—when I was growing up, she worked in New York City. She befriended a homeless man and would bring him clothes from time to time. She taught us that when we see someone in need, we should do what we can. We can always pay it forward."

In his life outside of CubeSmart, Michael helps his family and neighbors with their chores, and volunteers for HIV/AIDs, juvenile diabetes, and cancer organizations. Recently, when a friend of his moved into a new apartment but couldn't afford much else, Michael came over, bringing what the friend might need to get him started. Then there was the Father's Day over a decade ago when he gave his stepfather a truly remarkable gift: he announced that he was changing his last name to honor the man who had raised him.

"People see you're doing good and they want to do the same," he says. "It all goes back to that movie. If you open your heart, other people will, too."

We’d love to hear how self storage has positively impacted your life. Share your #HumansofSelfStorage story in the comments.

About the author

Elisa Ludwig

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