It might be easy to mistake them for elves in training. On Sunday, volunteers for Toys for Local Children packed up toys for 862 families in need, and more requests will be filled every day—as long as enough donations come in.
Now through 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, unwrapped gifts can still be donated to the Somerville nonprofit at numerous locations in Somerville (see below). Most needed are toys for infants and toddlers as well as for 10- to 16-year-olds.
"There are many reasons why people are in need. Some are fire victims. Some have lost jobs. Some have an illness in the family," said Cindy Hickey of Somerville. "We do this one thing for them."
Hickey, who volunteered for 25 years as the local coordinator for Toys for Tots, cofounded the Somerville nonprofit five years ago with four fellow Toys for Tots volunteers: Jennifer Querusio and Connie Lorenti both of Somerville. David Smith of Bedford and Ellen Palmer of Burlington. They've been delivering toys to Bay State children year-round ever since.
"During the year, we work with the fire departments to provide toys to children whose homes are damaged by fire. Sometimes they lose everything and they come to us," said Hickey.
Generosity still high despite recession
Hickey has seen no drop-off in donations since the downturn.
"If anything, I think people are buying nicer gifts. They buy really good toys," she said. "I think in tough times, people just come together."
Businesses, the City, public employees and local fire departments have also provided significant support. Space Self Storage donates workspace, area businesses and lawyers share their office equipment and supplies and the Somerville Fire Department and City collect the toys.
"We have businesses from as little as Tony's Barbershop on Broadway to supporters as big as the Somerville Fire Department helping us," said Hickey. "It's lots and lots of folks."
Local high school students also help out. "All of the posters are made by Somerville High School students, and several of the students have been participants in our program. So this is their way of giving back," said Hickey.
Meanwhile, volunteers like Hickey, who is also the full-time Executive Director of the Somerville Council on Aging, donate evenings, weekends and vacation days to keep the operation running. Requests come in from charities and groups across the state as well as state agencies.
It may just be toys, but for some they make all the difference
Hickey said there's always at least one moment each year that really makes clear why the whole effort matters. This year, that moment came when the nonprofit got a call from Hanscom Air Force Base.
"They had a father who was dying of cancer and he had a four-year-old boy and asked if we could help out. I said absolutely and asked if he wanted us to make an early Christmas and he said that would be great," said Hickey. "Tuesday morning we met him and gave him all the toys. The father passed away that night—knowing that his son was going to have an awesome Christmas. That's what makes it all worthwhile."
"The family who comes in and says, I don't know what I'm going to do. I can't make my mortgage. I don't have food. I don't have this. Well, we can't do any of that, but we can make their Christmas," said Hickey.
How and where to donate
New, unwrapped toys for children from infants to 16 years old may be dropped off until 1 p.m. on Dec. 24 at…
- The Boston Sports Club at One Davis Square in Somerville
- East Cambridge Savings Bank branches at
- 285 Highland Ave., Somerville
- 243 Salem St., Medford
- 292 Cambridge St., Cambridge
- 1310 Cambridge St., Cambridge
- 2067 Mass. Ave., Cambridge
- 860 Lexington St., Waltham
Toys for 0-2-year-olds and 10-16-year-olds are most urgently needed. Use your imagination, or try these suggestions:
- For babies, anything, especially handheld toys.
- For older kids, small games like Operation or Scrabble.
- Footballs, basketballs and soccer balls.
- Bath sets or hairbrush sets for girls.
More information on Toys for Local Children can be found www.toysforlocalchildren.org.