2015-12-04 / Community

Locals lead holiday toy drives for the needy

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Paula Deas, left, and Helen Murphy, customer service associates at the People's United Bank on Hinckley Drive in South Portland, pose at a toy drive drop-off in the bank lobby, with event organizer Liz Darling and South Portland police officer Linda Barker, who is co-ordinating delivery to area schools. For information on how to help, along a full list of drop-off points, contact Darling at lad@maineroofinginc.com. (Duke Harrington photo) Paula Deas, left, and Helen Murphy, customer service associates at the People's United Bank on Hinckley Drive in South Portland, pose at a toy drive drop-off in the bank lobby, with event organizer Liz Darling and South Portland police officer Linda Barker, who is co-ordinating delivery to area schools. For information on how to help, along a full list of drop-off points, contact Darling at lad@maineroofinginc.com. (Duke Harrington photo) Editor’s note: This story ran in last week’s paper with part of the story cut off. It appears here in its entirety.

SOUTH PORTLAND — With Thanksgiving in the air, a pair of local woman 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 its 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.

“Here’s a child, eight-year-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.”

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.”

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.

“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 there 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 ////////// story cuts off here at end of Page 8 and repeats on Page 9, and online, from Graph 8 above, starting, "As was the case last year. Everything after hash marks was omitted from print and online /////////// 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 Offi- cer 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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