Presents organized by ages guarantee Christmas smiles
Salvation Army Lt. Herb Rader said 986 families were served by the Toy Shop, some with five or six children or more, and an additional 72 families were "adopted" by various organizations and businesses.
For the people going through the Toy Shop, picking out four toys for each child, plus stocking stuffers, there was a wide selection of toys, grouped by age, infants to 12 years.
Santa Fund families also got a grocery gift card and a bag of bread products from Freihofer Bakery. The bag of bread was a welcome surprise for one mother, who said: "My kids eat a lot of sandwiches."
To forestall any toy supply problems, Salvation Army personnel calculated the numbers and ages of children accepted for the program and made sure the toy supplies were appropriate for each age group.
Nina was delighted to pick out a Cabbage Patch doll for her daughter. "She's two and she likes babies," she said.
She was picking gifts for four children, ages one month to 11 years, and was happy to see the variety of gifts for all ages.
She has sought help from the Santa Fund before, but has also been in a position to handle the holidays on her own at times. "This year has been very tough," she said.
Lynn was looking for gifts for her five-month-old and her three- and six-year-olds. She was pleased to find an Elmo for one boy: "He loves Elmo." A tea set was perfect for her daughter, a "girly girl."
At the stuffed animal stop, she said: "My son likes Mickey Mouse," but when Mickey couldn't be found, Minnie was a good substitute. "He'll like that," she said, adding, "They all share them."
Popular names and toys were well represented, with Lego, Barbie, Candyland and Battleship among them. There were Easy Bake Ovens, still only in pink this year, but with blue, black and silver gender-neutral colors planned for next year.
There were skateboards, basketballs, digital cameras and digital music devices. There were stuffed animals for the youngest children and fingerless mittens for somewhat older youngsters who need their fingers free for touch phones and music players. There were hair dryers and board games.
The volunteers who set up the Toy Shop and often serve as escorts for shoppers, benefitted from the Radisson's allowing them to begin setting up the Toy Shop Wednesday.
But volunteer escort (and set-up person) Mario Pena would have been there helping anyway. "This is my fourth year," he said.
Pena works at the city Office of Youth Services and said the office does a lot with the Salvation Army and his boss supports volunteer work. But Pena especially likes working the Toy Shop because he likes seeing toys being selected for children to open on Christmas morning.
Another volunteer, tiny Sally Zyla Addison, was dragging a black plastic bag of toys almost as big as she is. A three-year veteran, she said she does it because: "It's the Christmas spirit brought to life."
It saddens her that so many of the people she accompanies say that they used to give and now they need help. "But it's for the kids," she said.
The Salvation Army buys toys with donations to the Santa Fund, more toys come from the annual motorcyle Toy Run in September, and still more come from sources like the "entry fee" Passaconnaway Country Club in Litchfield sets for participation in a special golf tournament.
Sometimes toy donations come with a personal message, like the one on a Lite Brite set that said the giver had received one from the Salvation Army as a child and now wanted someone else to get as much joy from the Lite Brite set as the giver had.
Donations to the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army help with toys for the Toy Shop, sending city youngsters to away camp for a week in the summer, afterschool programs and Kids Cafe, holiday meals for seniors, and small gifts and visits to nursing home residents.