2015-11-27 / Front Page

Locals lead holiday toy, turkey drives

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Dick Brown, a driver trainer at the South Portland Hannaford Supermarket and and Police Chief Ed Googins pose outside a delivery truck on the way to dropping off holiday meals for 15 local families in need Nov. 19. (Courtesy photo) Dick Brown, a driver trainer at the South Portland Hannaford Supermarket and and Police Chief Ed Googins pose outside a delivery truck on the way to dropping off holiday meals for 15 local families in need Nov. 19. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — With Thanksgiving in the air, a pair of local women are focused on giving back, organizing holiday toy drives in partnership with South Portland firefighters and police officers.

Cynthia Tayman- Veroneau of South Portland, a mortgage agent at Portside Real Estate Group in Falmouth, is a self-described born organizer with a history of diving head first into charitable projects. But recently she’s found a niche and it’s one that she’s been able to meet largely through the use of social media.

Five years ago, she and her family decided to adopt a couple of children during the annual holiday gift drive organized by the Opportunity Alliance. The Portland-based 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.


Cynthia Tayman-Veroneau poses with members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1476, including, from left, South Portland Fire Department Lt. Phil Selberg, firefighter Matt Cox, and union vice president Stephen Simonson, whose $4,000 donation helps to fund her annual holiday toy drive. "Without them, there is no this," she said. (Duke Harrington photo) Cynthia Tayman-Veroneau poses with members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1476, including, from left, South Portland Fire Department Lt. Phil Selberg, firefighter Matt Cox, and union vice president Stephen Simonson, whose $4,000 donation helps to fund her annual holiday toy drive. "Without them, there is no this," she said. (Duke Harrington photo) “Here’s a child, eightyear old female, who wants underwear, sox 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.”


Buying presents for local children in need at the Scarborough Walmart Nov. 22 are Kate Turner, baby Liam Turner, and Noah Veroneau. (Courtesy photo) Buying presents for local children in need at the Scarborough Walmart Nov. 22 are Kate Turner, baby Liam Turner, and Noah Veroneau. (Courtesy photo) 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, 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 kids.

“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.”


Right, on a shopping spree at the Scarborough Walmart Nov. 22 to buy presents for local children in need, using donations including $4,000 from the South Portland Firefighters Union (IAFF Local 1476), are, from left, Ana Smith, Olivia Adams, Laura Smith, Cynthia Veroneau, Debbie Adams, Ashley Turner, Kate Turner, with Noah Veroneau in front and baby Liam Turner. (Courtesy photo) Right, on a shopping spree at the Scarborough Walmart Nov. 22 to buy presents for local children in need, using donations including $4,000 from the South Portland Firefighters Union (IAFF Local 1476), are, from left, Ana Smith, Olivia Adams, Laura Smith, Cynthia Veroneau, Debbie Adams, Ashley Turner, Kate Turner, with Noah Veroneau in front and baby Liam Turner. (Courtesy photo) As was the case last year, 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.

Meanwhile, Liz Darling, has run a similar toy drive for the past four years, working on conjunction with the South Portland Police Department.

Darling, whose family owns Maine Roofing, says she got involved two after learning two of her employees needed help during the holidays.


In addition to its help distributing toys for a local drive, to culminate in an Dec. 12 collection event at Evelyn's Tavern on Sawyer Street, the South Portland Police Department on Nov. 19 partnered with local schools and Hannaford Supermarkets to deliver holiday meals to 15 city families in need. Participants included, from left, Dick Brown, Sgt. Paul Lambert, Chief Ed Googins, Officer Linda Barker, Bruce Southwick, Ron Laflamme, Officer Al Giusto, Rebecca Shaw, Officer Ted Sargent, and Officer Richard Mearn (Courtesy photo) In addition to its help distributing toys for a local drive, to culminate in an Dec. 12 collection event at Evelyn's Tavern on Sawyer Street, the South Portland Police Department on Nov. 19 partnered with local schools and Hannaford Supermarkets to deliver holiday meals to 15 city families in need. Participants included, from left, Dick Brown, Sgt. Paul Lambert, Chief Ed Googins, Officer Linda Barker, Bruce Southwick, Ron Laflamme, Officer Al Giusto, Rebecca Shaw, Officer Ted Sargent, and Officer Richard Mearn (Courtesy photo) “I called everybody I could think of to get them help, from Toys for Tots to Catholic Charities, and I couldn’t get them anything,” she said. “I was sick about it. These were people who came to work for us every day, they worked really hard, but due to other circumstances they were just really struggling, and I was, like, I can’t believe there’s nothing that can be done for their children.”

So, Darling partnered with Evelyn’s Tavern on Sawyer Street, which already had an informal toy drive going, in which it would drop off donations for distribution to school’s by local police officers.

That soon became a more formal drive in which Darling and her partners collect donations for children in need, as identified anonymously by the South Portland School Department. The toys are then sorted at the Church of the Nazarene and distributed to the schools, or to homes, by police officers, under the direction of Officer Linda Barker, a member of the department’s community response unit.

 “The need is so great, it just made sense for us to be involved, because we know the community and we know the schools,” Barker said. “And who doesn’t like to be Santa Claus, really.”

 “They also legitimize what we do, because the teachers aren’t going to just hand me information on students in need. I mean, who am I?” Darling said.

 “It’s a matter of trust,” Barker agreed. “I just think its important for people to know that, although times are tough, there are people in the community, from average citizens, to the schools, to the police department, who are there to help.”

Darling says her group bought toys last year for 230 children, and expects to do the same again this year, with hope of giving added focus to teens.

 “When we started I thought for sure the need would be all in Redbank and the western part of the city, but it’s really spread out all over,” she said. “So, any donation is welcome.”

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