PARIS – Despite an initial gloomy outlook, the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots program came through with nearly 1,000 toys for needy children in Oxford County.

“Oxford County is a seriously giving community. It’s the most we’ve ever raised. When times get hard, Mainers come through,” said Sgt. Craig Harriman.

He and two other Marines of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines in Topsham, coordinated the program to provide toys for 17,000 needy families in Maine.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Peggy Turner of the Families In Crisis Task Force in Paris, which distributes hundreds of toys to Oxford County children each year through the Toys for Tots program.

Although the Task Force distributed more than 1,500 toys last year through the Toys for Tots program, in November Turner said she received notice that the program had to scale back because of limited resources.

When Turner heard this, she went to work to raise money and toys. The Task Force raised $675 and toy donations at a single event.

Three weeks later, the Marines pulled up in a van carrying nearly 1,000 toys for area children.

Turner said the Marines’ truckload was a complete surprise, particularly since she began her own fundraising efforts. “Every night I’ve been shopping,” she said of her efforts to get the community behind the need for more toys.

“We worked pretty much all last night,” she said. The toy giveaway is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Family Counseling Service office on Route 26 in Paris with toys from the Marines’ program and the Task Force’s fundraising efforts.

Harriman said efforts by Turn Key Homes in Oxford and the Oxford County Chamber of Commerce under executive director Steve Wallace’s leadership were key to the success of the program this year.

“I was thrilled with what we raised,” Harriman said. The Marines were able to raise three times the amount they did last year, he said.

Several other organizations in Oxford County have benefited from the Marines’ program, including Rightstart, an organization that provides Christmas gifts to children.

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