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Toys for Tots seeing slow but steady support in the Lakes Region

December 22, 2010
LAKES REGION — Over the past week a look at donations to Toys for Tots varied throughout the region, where some drop-off centers have seen amazing contributions while others felt they had seen more in years past but were still holding out hope for a last minute surge in donations.

The Toys for Tots campaign began in 1947 when a Marine major's wife made a toy and requested it be given to a child who needed it for Christmas. Since that time, Marines have been collecting toys for children across the country each year.

Here in the Lakes Region the Marines have received assistance from numerous "elves" who promote the cause and collect toys for the servicemen and women to distribute to children who might otherwise not see a present under their Christmas tree.

Belmont Fire Department is one drop off center that reported that while they had many donations brought to their station, they have seen more in past years. Firefighter Tom Murphy assists in the Toys for Tots program at the department and said he felt one reason for the decrease this year could be the abundance of drop-off areas now available for residents as more get involved with Toys for Tots.

"We're open right up until Christmas Eve though, and we often see a surge in donations from mid-December on," he said.

Northway Bank is one of those other local drop-off centers. Spokesman Rich Sidor said all branches of the bank from Belmont to Concord were participating this year. The organization was selected by the banking institute because of its national effort to reach people in need.

"We can contribute to Toys for Tots from every community we serve and yet it all stays local as much as possible and will help a number of people," Sidor said.

In Meredith The Village Perk took up the cause this year as well and has been receiving contributions from customers and people who have stopped in just to leave a donation. Owner Greg Grant said he has had a box set up in his restaurant for toy donations but has also received cash donations.

"I'll either go out and buy toys with that money for Toys for Tots or, if I don't have enough time, I'll turn the cash over for them to shop for the kids," he said.

Meredith Village Savings Bank also participated again this year and said donations have been pouring in to their branches all over the Lakes Region, from Gilford to Meredith. The bank also has a Mitten Tree for local school children where for each mitten, winter hat or scarf donated, $2 is also given to the charity of the donor's choice.

MVSB's efforts to assist people last beyond the Christmas season, said spokesperson Cindy Hemeon-Plessner, by selling Central N.H. Visiting Nurses Association Health and Hospice dining coupon books and continuing with their Mitten Tree into the winter months.

At the New Hampshire Veterans Home there are a number of helpers collecting toys for the Marine-based Toys for Tots campaign. Staff, residents, volunteers and family members have all rallied to purchase toys for the organization, said Spiritual Care Coordinator and ex-Marine Mary Schweitzer.

This year had been slow up until the last week, she said, but donations were beginning to pick up as everyone got more into the holiday spirit. One resident, an ex-Marine himself, was using his room to store many of the items until the next pick-up date just before Christmas.

Perhaps one of the most successful locations for the program this year was RE/MAX Realty in Meredith, which was celebrating their second year of involvement with Toys for Tots. Robin Appleton-Potter said they have seen a great response from the community and had had several pick-ups from the state headquarters by mid-December, a few in which the volunteers had to make extra trips to transport all the toys RE/MAX employees had collected.

"One couple came in and brought two bicycles to us, something they do every year for one charity or another. Then we had a man who had decided along with his friends that this was something they wanted to support this year and they came in last Monday with a ton of toys," she said.

iPod shuffles for older children, hula hoops and gift cards to local stores were among the many contributions RE/MAX has seen through individual drop-offs and at an Open House they held to kick off their efforts.

"It's so much fun to see all the things people bring in. We're very appreciative of their support," she said.

Staff Sergeant Richard Johnson at the state headquarters in Londonderry said this year has not seen as many donations as they have received in the past but the quality of items donated has gone up. Regardless of the size of any donation they receive, he said the program considers each of them a large contribution.

"We consider the year a success if we can reach out and help just one child," Johnson said.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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