PERU — Christmas Toy Drive volunteers Brenda Calden, Shirley Turner, Connie Tutlis and others spent Saturday morning in church, unpacking hundreds of donated toys from large U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation boxes.

The oodles of stuffed animals, dolls, Hot Wheels cars, puzzles, GI Joe action figures and accessories, crayons, child cosmetic kits, paint-by-number sets, Harry Potter books and miniature World War II aircraft toys atop tables created several islands of future fun inside the warm basement at United Baptist Church on Main Street.

They were collected through drive coordinator Turn Key Homes of Maine in Oxford for distribution to nonprofit organizations statewide.

Turner’s daughter, Peggy Turner, who directs the Families in Crisis Task Force, has helped run its Christmas Toy Drive since its inception in 1991 – the same year the Marines launched their Toys for Tots program.

“Oh, my gosh!” Calden of Peru exclaimed. “We had six to eight big boxes of toys for infants all the way to 13- to 15-year-olds, like puzzles, for at least 200 people.”

Many footballs, basketballs and soccer balls also were donated, along with plastic baseball bats and balls.

All were given by people and organizations in Maine, including the United Bikers of Maine, the Marines and the Roxbury All-Terrain Vehicle Riders Club, to help children in need experience the joy of Christmas.

By 10:45 a.m. – 90 minutes into the four-hour toy drive – 40 parents and grandparents who had preregistered with the task force for help, had stopped in and taken away up to five toys each, Calden said.

Some also got unexpected food such as turkeys and canned goods, jars of peanut butter and jam, cereal, doughnuts and cupcakes, thanks to the church’s food pantry, Sheltering Wing.

“The food helps families out when they’re trying to buy presents,” Shirley Turner of Peru said.

Joanne Palmer of Peru said she came in to find a few toys for her grandchildren. Bypassing the stuffed animals and Harry Potter books, her eyes lit up when she saw a colorful Maze-N-Race game.

“Now I would have liked something like this when I was younger, but no one ever bought me this,” Palmer said. “This is so cute.”

The donations were as much comforting and heartwarming to the volunteers as it was heartbreaking to see so many families come in that morning who wouldn’t have had Christmas presents or needed food items.

“The people really went for that food, so that’s telling you something,” Tutlis said. “And then you see some that really want to take the food because they need it, but they don’t.”

Peggy Turner of Family Counseling Services at 659 Park St. in Paris said calls for help really surged this year.

“I was taking 30 to 50 calls a day before Thanksgiving and now I’m taking more,” she said. “Everyone’s on a fixed income today, and we have a lot of dads who are absent parents, because they’re not working. Some have been out of work for two to three years and are living with their mothers to get by.”

To get help and Christmas toys through the drive, Peggy Turner said people applying must provide proof of income and Social Security numbers for everyone in the family.

Another toy drive distribution will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Families in Crisis Center.

If it wasn’t for volunteers and donations, the program wouldn’t exist.

“The other day I met one guy in a store and he asked, ‘Are you still doing toys?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he gave me $100 and said, ‘Go get some toys with it,’ and I went right to Marden’s and did,” Shirley Turner said. “People are so generous.”

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During Saturday’s Christmas Toy Drive distribution to families in need in the basement of the United Baptist Church on Main Street in Peru, Families in Crisis Task Force volunteers Brenda Calden, left, of Peru and Jackie Theriault of Dixfield, admire a stuffed bear held by task force director Peggy Turner, as the trio unloaded toys and stuffed animals donated through the Marine Corps program Toys for Tots.

Christmas Toy Drive volunteers Shirley Turner, left, and Brenda Calden of Peru, and Connie Tutlis of Rumford, unload donated stuffed animals in the River Valley area from the basement of the United Baptist Church on Main Street in Peru. Families and grandparents participating in the four-hour program through the Families in Crisis Task Force got to choose up to five toys.

During Saturday’s Christmas Toy Drive distribution from the basement of the United Baptist Church to families in need, volunteers Connie Tutlis, left, of Rumford, and Judy Turner and Brenda Calden, both of Peru, display some of the hundreds of toys that were donated by Oxford County organizations, the United Bikers of Maine, the Roxbury All-Terrain Vehicle Riders Club, county residents and the Marine Corps.

After helping more than 40 people seeking toys for children for Christmas at the Christmas Toy Drive in the basement of the United Baptist Church on Saturday, volunteers Connie Tutlis, left, of Rumford, Shirley Turner and Brenda Calden of Peru and Jackie Theriault of Dixfield check out shoulder bags given to them for helping with the Families in Crisis Task Force program.


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