WALLINGFORD — On Thursday, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program held its first local distribution event of the season, giving out toys to 371 families.
It took six and a half hours and “just about emptied our warehouse,” said Marine Sgt. Ronald Cantara, regional site coordinator, the day after the event.
Toys For Tots collects new, unwrapped toys for children age 18 and younger. The Wallingford warehouse in Silversmith Park on Quinnipiac Street serves families in New Haven and Middlesex counties.
Last year, the local warehouse distributed 21,636 toys to 7,375 families. This year’s campaign started Oct. 1 and is slated to run through Dec. 20.
Toys for Tots is a program that gives twice, said Fay Williams, the volunteer warehouse coordinator. Not only does the program give toys to families, they also give items to nonprofits — churches, schools and other 501c3 organizations — to distribute.
“It’s an awesome outreach within an outreach,” she said.
Williams, 61, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served as a nurse in two war zones, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Once I retired (in 2012), I started looking for something else to do, and I realized they had a program,” she said. “It’s my give-back every year. I volunteer for other programs, too, at church and for community activities. But this is my annual give-back.”
She’s been volunteering in Wallingford for eight years. Williams and the 35 to 40 other warehouse volunteers bag and distribute toys from the warehouse, which is organized into boys and girls gifts by age group, with special sections for arts and crafts kits, board games and puzzles, books and bicycles.
Part of her job is maintaining a database of every applicant family, with names and ages of the children. She said it’s those families that keep her coming back.
“You can tell the ones that really have a need and are appreciative,” she said, “just by the way they talk to you, and I’ve seen tears in this program.”
The “heart-pouring of giving” is another reason, she said. Three years ago, a woman received a toy for her 14-year-old foster son, and she returned to donate $500 in return.
“That tells me, she could have bought that young man those things, if she really wanted to,” she said. “So I don’t know if God sent her or what, but it was just the thought. You never know who you’re entertaining, because it could be an angel.”
Williams grew up in New Haven and lives in Northford. She and her husband, Walter Williams, have six children and seven grandchildren.
Along with Cantara and Williams, Colin Bernard, a second volunteer site coordinator, is assisting in Wallingford for the first time this year.
The approximately 3,000-square-foot warehouse space, phone, internet and dumpster are donated for Toys for Tots use for more than two months.
Cash donations are another way to help the program, letting them buy items like trash bags, which are used during distribution.
“We encourage it and we highly appreciate the monetary donations,” Williams said, adding that they actually started this year in a deficit.
“We get an over-pouring of the toys when they start, because there’s events going on and boxes at collection sites,” she said.
Cantara said there are 40 events scheduled this year, such as private parties, and more than 200 drop sites.
Williams said she has a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the program, so much so that “until God sits me down, I’ll be here.”