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Santa Fund Toy Shop helps 1,185 families

First year volunteer Scott Perry, of Manchester, tosses a toy to eighteen year volunteer Kate Martel, of Manchester, as they sort through gifts at the Union Leader Salvation Army Santa Fund Toy Shop Monday afternoon at the Radisson.JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER 

More than 1,000 moms and dads shopped for Christmas presents for their children Monday at the Salvation Army Toy Shop in the Radisson Hotel.

Your donations to the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army provide most of the toys, although some of the "special" toys are collected at the New Hampshire Motorcycle Rights Organization Toy Run each September.

Salvation Army Capt. Miriam Rader said there were 1,185 families registered to shop Monday. The Salvation Army also was able have businesses, churches and other organizations take care of 80 especially needy families.

Fawn was looking for toys for her 4-year-old daughter, who has cystic fibrosis.

"We had four hospitalizations last year," she said, at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.

Money is so tight, she said: "I went to the Dollar Store and Goodwill."

She was delighted to find a bicycle, pink at that, and a helmet. Her daughter needs exercise and Fawn is willing to haul the bike up and down stairs to make riding it possible. "The princess tea set is perfect," she said, adding there will be many tea parties.

Shannon Hebert was helping Fawn, holding the black trash bags used to conceal items from curious eyes at home. Hebert, an outreach worker with the city Office of Youth Services, has been with the department for nine years and a volunteer at the Toy Shop for five or six. "We work closely with the Salvation Army," she said. "A lot of our kids go there."

Manchester Corps Capt. Herb Rader said the days was going well, as usual.

The volunteers are key to the smooth operation of the Toy Shop, said Bob Champagne, the Community Center Director at the Salvation Army Manchester Corps.

Longtime Salvation Army advisory board members, like Yvonne Gosselin, and their family members pitch in at various points in setup and shopping. Gosselin joked that nobody pays attention to what she says, but it's not true. Experience is key to making the process go smoothly and those with experience can help solve any problem that might crop up.

Toys are divided by age groups and Champagne said some of the table captains have been here for years. They know their merchandise and can make suggestions.

Volunteers are what makes the toy shop operation, setup, shopping day and cleanup, go smoothly.

Champagne said: "The biggest thing this year, there's no school today. He said: "We had, I think it was the Bishop Guertin girls soccer team here." he said. Miss New Hampshire and a number of other title holders were assisting. As were a number of Manchester Police Officers, including Richard Brown, who said his daughters who be impressed that he had a photo taken with all the "real life princesses."

But the number of volunteers wasn't dependent only on school being out. Captain Miriam said: "We've recruited more church groups."

Gosselin recalled a college student saying he heard about it from another. "Word of mouth. It's a wonderful thing," she said.

Shoppers could select three toys for each child, stocking stuffers for each and stuffed animals for those under four years. They also received gift cards from Market Basket, the amount keyed to the size of the family.

The families assisted by the Santa Fund are a diverse group, reflecting the city's changing population thanks to immigrants and refugees. One woman solved the problem of two large bags, by setting one on her head while she carried the second. Others, with smaller families, slung a well-filled bag over a shoulder and left the Radisson smiling.

While some families have relied on the Santa Fund for years, Tasha was a newcomer. "I have three kids and I just adopted my two nephews," she said.

Three children can be a handful and adding two more ups the cost and activity level. She said her nephews needed to develop social and behavior skills, so, she said: "They go to Head Start."

She's feeling better now, she said, but she's had some health issues. As a result, she said: "I've been out of work." With five children, ranging in age from three to 13, she really appreciates the help of the Santa Fund, said Tasha. "It means the world."


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