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Toys for Tots campaign kicks off in Agawam

(From left to right) Rocky Snow, Western Massachusetts coordinator of Toys for Tots, Ronald Hamel, owner of Letalien Jewelers, Mayor-elect Susan Dawson, Aldo Mancini, Jr., member of the Westfield River Valley Marine Corps League, Cpl. Alex Echeverria and Aldo Mancini at the Agawam kick-off of the Toys for Tots 2007 campaign at Letalien Jewelers. Donations can be made to any of the 10 drop locations in Agawam. The deadline is Dec. 15. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM In 1947 Diane Hendricks, wife of United States Marine Corps Reservist Maj. William Hendricks, made a Raggedy Ann doll and gave it to her husband. She told him to donate the doll to an organization that provided toys for needy children during the holidays. However, no such organization existed and so became the birth of Toys for Tots.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which collects over 19 million toys for 7.5 million children nationwide every year.

Earlier this month the Agawam chapter of Toys for Tots kicked off their donation season at their headquarters at Letalien Jewelers on Walnut Street. Toys donated from those in Agawam supplement donations from numerous communities across four counties in Western Massachusetts Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden which collect over 40,000 new, unwrapped toys.

"You can't imagine walking out of your house and finding a bag of everything your children want," Mayor-elect Susan Dawson said at the kickoff. She recalled when Toys for Tots delivered a bag of presents to her family following her then-husband's hardship discharge from the military.

Dawson said there were only three presents one for each of their children under the tree that Christmas.

"If it were not for [Toys for Tots] we wouldn't have had a Christmas and every year since then I've donated," she said.

Cpl. Alex Echeverria said he attended the kickoff to promote the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and express the needs of local children. He added that it's also important for people to realize the scope of the Marine Corps' service to the community.

Aldo Mancini, a member of the Westfield River Valley Marine Corps League, said that it's important to remember those families in need during the holidays and especially the families of those serving overseas. Many reservists in this area "take a pay cut" during deployment they are only paid by the government and not their civilian jobs making holiday gift buying difficult for families, he explained.

Mancini noted the growth in generosity over the past four years of his involvement as communities are beginning to realize the greater need. He said over 800 toys were collected from Agawam alone last year.

Rocky Snow, Western Massachusetts coordinator for Toys for Tots said, when buying new toys to donate to the foundation it is important to remember teens as well as young children. He added that the majority of toys received are for young children.

Snow noted that all the toys donated within Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties are distributed to families within these counties only.

Drop off locations for the Toys for Tots Foundation in Agawam include the public library, police and fire stations, the Department of Public Works, town hall, the Office of Veterans' Services, Alexander's Restaurant, American Legion Post 185 and Letalien Jewelers.

The deadline to donate toys at any of the drop locations is Dec. 15.