By Brooke Loring
WHRHS student intern
WHITMAN — This past Sunday, while most people were at the Tri-town Veterans’ Day parade in Abington, others were busy at work being Santa’s little helpers, at the Whitman VFW Pavilion.
The Whitman Area Toy Drive has now, for 18 years, provided toys for each Christmas season to between 200 to 300 families in economic need.
Donnie Westhaver, chairman and founder of the Whitman Area Toy Drive, found his calling in 2000, after two Toys for Tots trailers of donated toys were stolen and the community was in desperate need.
“We started at the American Legion with only two tables [of toys]”, Westhaver recalled. “We started to get so many toys we had to move.” Due to the many donations from last year, the toy drive was able to start two weeks early this year.
“We have plenty of toys now, for Whitman, Abington, Hanson, and Rockland!” Westhaver exclaimed. Within minutes of meeting Westhaver, his passion for the drive is evident.
“I saw a need to take care of the community.” Westhaver’s partner, Jane Plasse, has helped with the toy drive for almost seven years now. “She coordinates everything”, Westhaver states gratefully, “she’s the boss lady.”
At the Pavilion, toys are placed on tables and are sorted by age and gender. As Westhaver says, “every table has a reason.” Families are given about four to five toys, or however many to accommodate their needs. “I call it the one stop deal”, explains Westhaver, “and of course we let the parents do the ‘shopping’, they can pick out whatever they want. We meet a lot of single mothers, parents that have been laid off, and military families too. We usually find those in need through schools, churches, and St. Vincent DePaul.”
This year the Whitman Area Toy Drive also reached out to members of the Whitman Food Pantry. Each year, at the drive, about 100 volunteers from the community help set up, including some of Donnie’s fellow Marine veterans.
“It has truly become a community event,” he said. “I sleep good in December knowing what we did.” The drive will have more than 25 drop-off spots for donations, in the area, within the next few weeks. The Whitman Area Toy Drive is an event that surely displays the community coming together to help those in need. While giving an uplifting speech before the event, Westhaver stated his admiration for the community volunteers who turned out to help.
“I love you people, and I couldn’t do it without you,” he said.