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Saying ‘Yes’ to Needy Children

Toys for Tots Steps Up in the Twin States

  • At the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, former resident Brayden Vaneizenga, 6, of Hartford, opens presents from Toys for Tots with other children.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, former resident Brayden Vaneizenga, 6, of Hartford, opens presents from Toys for Tots with other children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Hanover Fire Station, Toys for Tots Coordinator Rick Maynard holds the door while he and Hanover firefighter Troy Leatherman carry bags of donated toys to Maynard’s truck. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Hanover Fire Station, Toys for Tots Coordinator Rick Maynard holds the door while he and Hanover firefighter Troy Leatherman carry bags of donated toys to Maynard’s truck. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fonda McKinney and her mother, Ina McKinney, both of Corinth, pick out a stuffed animal at the Toys for Tots office in Lebanon. Fonda  McKinney was picking toys out for her two children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Fonda McKinney and her mother, Ina McKinney, both of Corinth, pick out a stuffed animal at the Toys for Tots office in Lebanon. Fonda McKinney was picking toys out for her two children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Six South Street Hotel in Hanover, (from left) Zach Williams, of Norwich, Robert Chambers, of Etna, and John Schumacher, of Hanover, talk over drinks. The Dartmouth Graduate Veterans Association had organized a holiday fundraiser to gather gifts for the Toys for Tots program. Chambers and Schumacher are both veterans. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Six South Street Hotel in Hanover, (from left) Zach Williams, of Norwich, Robert Chambers, of Etna, and John Schumacher, of Hanover, talk over drinks. The Dartmouth Graduate Veterans Association had organized a holiday fundraiser to gather gifts for the Toys for Tots program. Chambers and Schumacher are both veterans. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Haven’s holiday party, former resident Marshall Dunham,12, of White River Junction, is given a bag of gifts from  Santa, played by Dan Ammel, who is a member of the Jeffery S. Holmes Post 84 American Legion. The gifts came from Toys for Tots. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Haven’s holiday party, former resident Marshall Dunham,12, of White River Junction, is given a bag of gifts from Santa, played by Dan Ammel, who is a member of the Jeffery S. Holmes Post 84 American Legion. The gifts came from Toys for Tots. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rick Maynard picks up donated toys at Dartmouth College’s Parkhurst Hall earlier this month. Maynard is the Upper Valley’s coordinator of Toys for Tots, which provides holiday gifts for needy children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Rick Maynard picks up donated toys at Dartmouth College’s Parkhurst Hall earlier this month. Maynard is the Upper Valley’s coordinator of Toys for Tots, which provides holiday gifts for needy children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, former resident Brayden Vaneizenga, 6, of Hartford, opens presents from Toys for Tots with other children.  (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • At the Hanover Fire Station, Toys for Tots Coordinator Rick Maynard holds the door while he and Hanover firefighter Troy Leatherman carry bags of donated toys to Maynard’s truck. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Fonda McKinney and her mother, Ina McKinney, both of Corinth, pick out a stuffed animal at the Toys for Tots office in Lebanon. Fonda  McKinney was picking toys out for her two children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • At the Six South Street Hotel in Hanover, (from left) Zach Williams, of Norwich, Robert Chambers, of Etna, and John Schumacher, of Hanover, talk over drinks. The Dartmouth Graduate Veterans Association had organized a holiday fundraiser to gather gifts for the Toys for Tots program. Chambers and Schumacher are both veterans. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • At the Haven’s holiday party, former resident Marshall Dunham,12, of White River Junction, is given a bag of gifts from  Santa, played by Dan Ammel, who is a member of the Jeffery S. Holmes Post 84 American Legion. The gifts came from Toys for Tots. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Rick Maynard picks up donated toys at Dartmouth College’s Parkhurst Hall earlier this month. Maynard is the Upper Valley’s coordinator of Toys for Tots, which provides holiday gifts for needy children. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Lebanon — When it comes to helping kids, Rick Maynard, 60, is a guy who can’t say no. The Post Mills resident started volunteering with the Twin States Toys for Tots Detachment in 1999. In 2003, he took on the role of coordinator, a position he’s held ever since.

Last Monday morning found him at this year’s “warehouse,” an unoccupied storefront in Miracle Mile Plaza on Route 4.

Maynard, a slim man with a neat, gray beard, seems comfortable on the move. He was headed out the door to Claremont on Toys for Tots business but stopped to take a call. Cordless phone in one hand, the keys to his black pickup truck in the other, he talked with a parent who wanted to make an appointment to pick up toys.

A large group was coming that day, so unless transportation was a problem, he’d recommend waiting a few days, so they could restock, Maynard said. “I want you to have the same choices as everybody else.”

Maynard, a disabled veteran, says there’s no specific reason, no special Christmas memory that inspires him to volunteer for what has turned out to be a year-round commitment.

“I’m in a position to do it,” he said. “How do you say ‘no’ to needy children?”

Last year Maynard, whose son and daughter are grown, was even called out on Christmas Day.

“My wife wasn’t too happy with it,” the former Marine said, but he just couldn’t refuse. If a parent is still struggling to pull things together by then, “I think that’s a kid that really needs the help.”

Recently, the Middlebury, Vt., chapter lost its coordinator. Maynard and a fellow volunteer helped out by driving to the town with a delivery of toys provided by the national Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, not, he emphasized, from the Twin State program.

Donations made in the Upper Valley are kept here, he said. “Local support is of the utmost importance.”

As Christmas draws closer, more and more families will be stopping by, picking up items their children might otherwise go without. Last year, the detachment gave out 40,683 toys to 6,307 area children. As of Wednesday morning, with its busiest time still yet to come, the Twin State Detachment of the Marine Corps League had provided 14,127 toys for 3,505 children this year. Maynard expects that, as in previous years, the need will continue to grow.

The toys can also be given in emergency situations year round, such as after house fires and when children are placed in foster care.

Gathering enough items to meet the need is a time-consuming process, and the work doesn’t end when the holidays are over. Long after Santa has made his way back to the North Pole, Maynard and his fellow volunteers keep working.

People might be surprised to see collection boxes for Toys for Tots after Christmas, he said, but collecting gifts throughout the year saves them from having “to start from scratch.”

For some detachments, storage is an enormous expense, costing hundreds, or even thousands of dollars a year.

Luckily, that’s not the case for the Twin States program, Maynard said.

The warehouse space and heat were donated, and RSD Transportation provides free storage in West Lebanon and even transports their items to and from the storage unit.

In addition to support from businesses, Maynard also relies on countless numbers of volunteers to keep the program going.

“It’s way bigger than one person,” he said.

Local fire and police departments are among the many organizations that collect money and gifts for Toys for Tots, and dozens of volunteers help in the warehouse alone. This year, 11 route drivers are transporting items from 170 donation boxes around the region.

Last week’s drab, icy weather didn’t keep volunteers or families away.

As snow turned to slush in the parking lot Monday morning, volunteers organized the toys that filled folding tables set up around the room. Dolls, trucks, puzzles, games, handmade wooden items — each item has its place. Two young mothers browsed for educational toys for their children. Nearby, several women from the Reading-West Windsor Food Shelf picked out items for kids whose families use the food shelf.

At 10:45 a.m., volunteer Rob Ward fielded a phone call from a parent. By the time he hung up, a line had formed inside the store.

Five women and one man each held a piece of white paper, intake forms they’d filled out with their parents’ names, gender town, children’s ages.

Ward, of Fairlee, explained the process. They should choose two large toys, two stocking stuffers and a stuffed animal for each child. Parents can also choose a board game, puzzle or craft, and a few books for the family.

Jon Pettinato, of Claremont, carried his young son Andrew from table to table as he looked for toys. Pettinato wasn’t expecting to have company on this errand, but his wife was home sick, caring for their three other children, so he brought along their youngest.

Smiling, the little boy leaned over his father’s shoulder to point out a truck that had caught his eye.

Andrew had open heart surgery in October, and he is recovering well, Pettinato said. “We just have to keep him away from people with colds.”

But between medical expenses and being out of work for almost a month during his son’s surgery, he said, finances were difficult. Thanks to Toys for Tots, Christmas would be brighter than otherwise.

“It’s very helpful,” he said.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.