Whitman Area Toy Drive cheers children in need
WHITMAN — Within an hour on Sunday morning, a small army of volunteers had transformed the VFW Post 697 pavilion at 95 Essex St., into something like an annex of the North Pole.
Members of the VFW Men’s Auxiliary and the Whitman Mother’s Club were joined by the WHRHS Drama Club and many more residents responding to a Facebook appeal for assistance, participated in the Whitman Area Toy Drive kickoff day on Nov. 8. In previous years, the kickoff was in early December.
Drama Club Vice President Samantha Healy said the group’s members volunteered because they know volunteer Jane Plasse.
“I mentioned to her that we wanted to do something to give back,” Healy said.
School Committee member Fred Small, a longtime volunteer with the Whitman Area Toy Drive, thanked the Drama Club for its participation.
“It’s really appreciated,” Small told the students. “Don’t ever stop getting involved. Don’t ever stop giving back.”
Volunteers Dan, Amy and Logan Desmond received a Facebook message from toy drive founder Donnie Westhaver and decided to come and help, too.
This is the toy drive’s 14th year and, for the past couple of years, a nonprofit partner of the VFW Men’s Auxiliary, according to Westhaver. That helped streamline the to drive’s nonprofit status while helping bring in some corporate donations, he said.
A first this year will be a visit by Santa Claus for photos with children from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6. There is no charge for the photos, but toy donations would be welcomed.
“We are here for the needy,” Westhaver said. “We always have been.”
The Whitman Area Toy Drive was started as a Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots collection, but the toys collected that year didn’t stay in the area because there is no reserve unit on the South Shore to oversee it.
“In order to pick up the slack for the community we decided to start Whitman Area Toy Drive, which goes to local families,” Westhaver told the volunteers. “It’s kind of a ‘one-stop shopping thing.’”
Westhaver also works to cooperate with toy drives in neighboring communities.
“A lot of the surrounding towns — Abington, Hanson, Rockland — have toy drives,” he said. “I told them if they run out of toys by the middle of December, call me up.”
But he encourages residents of those towns to go through their community program first.
Client families come to the pavilion close to Christmas to select toys for their children — often three to five toys per child s well as clothing items — and are provided with gift wrap supplies they need and even Christmas trees, complete with lights and ornaments.
The Men’s Auxiliary presented Westhaver, it’s president as well as the toy drive organizer, with a $3,000 donation Sunday morning and the Whitman Mother’s Club presented $5,000 as its annual donation. The auxiliary’s donation was one of many it was able to make from the $17,000 raised at its annual golf tournament in August. The Mother’s Club’s donation is also a regular part of the group’s community support fundraising.
“It’s very rewarding and we have a great time doing it,” said auxiliary member Matt Olson. “It’s too much for one guy, so all of us do whatever we can. [Westhaver is] very dedicated to it and doesn’t want all of this to fall away.”
Last year the drive received $9,000 in cash donations and $50,000 worth of donated toys and clothes.
“There’s some great people here,” Westhaver said. “This is overwhelming.”
The volunteers assembled briefly to receive instructions and to hear more about the toy drive’s roots and mission before sorting the toys donated since last Christmas, which have been in storage. Two long rows of tables, covered with red or green plastic tablecloths, were labeled with signs indicating how to lay out the toys by gender and age group.
On Friday, Nov. 20, a performance by an Elvis/Johnny Cash impersonator is planned at the VFW to support Whitman Area Toy Drive and Men’s Auxiliary programs. Call 781-447-6883 for tickets and more information. A meat raffle is planned for Saturday, Nov. 28 at the VFW to support the Men’s Auxiliary.