2014-11-21 / Community

Holiday giving grows

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


A manager at the Scarborough Walmart collects information from Cynthia Veroneau preparatory to opening a special checkout lane during a Nov. 14 shopping spree to provide for the needy as part of the annual Opportunity Alliance holiday gift drive. (Duke Harrington photo) A manager at the Scarborough Walmart collects information from Cynthia Veroneau preparatory to opening a special checkout lane during a Nov. 14 shopping spree to provide for the needy as part of the annual Opportunity Alliance holiday gift drive. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — When you’re buying enough that the Scarborough Walmart opens a special aisle just for you, you know you’re on something of a spree.

But as Cynthia Tayman-Veroneau of South Portland lined up five carts full of goods at the checkout, she was not shopping for herself. She was buying for needy children in the area, using a list that’s grown to more than 200.

Tayman-Veroneau, a realtor at

Carriage House Mortgage in Cape Elizabeth, is a self-described born organizer, with a history of diving head first into charitable projects. But recently, she’s found a niche, and its one that she’s been able to meet largely through the use of social media.


An army of shoppers turned out last weekened to gather items for children this Christmas, though Opportunity Alliance. They are, from left, Olivia Adam, Anna Smith, Anna Cloutier, Debbie Adams, Cyndi Veroneau, Patrick Veroneau, Noah Veroneau, Grace Veroneau, Kim Brown, Emily Brown and Jim Brown. (Duke Harrington photo) An army of shoppers turned out last weekened to gather items for children this Christmas, though Opportunity Alliance. They are, from left, Olivia Adam, Anna Smith, Anna Cloutier, Debbie Adams, Cyndi Veroneau, Patrick Veroneau, Noah Veroneau, Grace Veroneau, Kim Brown, Emily Brown and Jim Brown. (Duke Harrington photo) Four years ago, she and her family decided to adopt a couple children during the annual holiday gift drive organized by the Opportunity Alliance. The Portlandbased social services nonprofit provides child ages and gift requests, but otherwise keeps the anonymity of the recipients, collecting and distributing the packages. What struck Tayman-Veroneau, however, was how few toys were on the list. More often, the request was for winter coats, hats, mittens and shoes.

“Here’s a child, 8-year-old female from Westbrook, who wants underwear, socks and gloves,” she said, looking through her list. “How can you not respond to that? There’s no electronics on this list. There’s no “i”- anything. It’s like the basic needs of life.”


Below, Kate Twombly, Grace Veroneau and Emily Brown. Right , Stephen Simonson from the South Portland Fire Department union, Samantha Twombly and Michelle Twombly. Below, Kate Twombly, Grace Veroneau and Emily Brown. Right , Stephen Simonson from the South Portland Fire Department union, Samantha Twombly and Michelle Twombly. The first season of giving proved so rewarding that Tayman-Veroneau bought for 33 children, reaching out to friends, family and co-workers for donations, as well as her contacts on Facebook and Twitter. Then last year, the list grew to 98 children, making her the largest single-donor after the University of New England. Now, this year, the list has doubled again, to 200.

Even so that’s just a fraction of the need. Last year, the Opportunity Alliance helped 780 area children.


Some of the shoppers helping to buy gifts for area children in need, from left, Anna Smith, Olivia Adam, and Debbie Adam, pose with their haul during a Nov. 14 excursion to the Scarborough Walmart. Some of the shoppers helping to buy gifts for area children in need, from left, Anna Smith, Olivia Adam, and Debbie Adam, pose with their haul during a Nov. 14 excursion to the Scarborough Walmart. “These kids don’t have a choice, they’re born into whatever they’re born into,” said Tayman-Veroneau. “For whatever social stigma their parents may have, ultimately, my goal is to not have any little kid bypassed by Santa.”

“It’s really been a true show of community,” Tayman-Veroneau said. “We’re known for our generosity in this area, but it blows my mind how people want to help.”

In particular, Tayman-Veroneau points to a $4,000 donation from the South Portland Professional Firefighters Union, nearly a quarter of the $20,000 she’ll need to meet her giving goal.

“That’s so amazing, I couldn’t do this without them,” she said.

But much of the giving has come from people Tayman-Veroneau doesn’t even know. By spreading the word about her project on Facebook and Twitter, asking for donations and then seeing those requested shared and passed on.

“It’s literally a virus, it just spreads and spreads,” she said. “There just no way this could have taken off the way it has any other way. It’s amazing how I’m able to connect with people who want to help, people I’ve never even met, without leaving my home. There’s just no way this could happen if I had to go out and make requests from people face-to-face.”

Tayman-Veroneau’s efforts have been recognized. She was both feted by the Opportunity Alliance and invited to join its board of directors. However, she’s adamant that the giving is not about her.

“This just feeds my soul,” she said. “I’d love to see more people get involved in this. The need is only going to grow.”

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