MEXICO — More than 200 children participating in Saturday’s River Valley area Easter Egg Hunt found and exchanged plastic eggs for pails of toys donated by area businesses.

Heavy rain held off until just after the 9 a.m. hunt for 125 eggs by children ages 6 and under in the parking and gazebo area behind the Mexico Fire Station.

Still, it was see-your-breath cold under an overcast sky that threatened to snow by 8:30 a.m. as a crowd of jacketed family members began to gather behind a barricade.

The 10-town annual Easter Egg Hunt is hosted by the River Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Mexico Fire Department.

In the first hunt by older children ages 7 to 12, they had from 6 a.m. to noon to find and return to the station with one each of 125 plastic eggs hidden throughout Byron, Canton, Carthage, Dixfield, Hanover, Mexico, Peru, Roxbury and Rumford.

“When I arrived at 5:30 this morning, I saw kids already out looking for eggs,” Barbara Belanger, chamber director and egg hunt chairwoman, said.

From 6 to 9 a.m., clues for hidden specially-marked plastic eggs were read through local radio station WOXO 100.7 FM.

Adults with radios tuned into the station, usually drive children to various towns to search for an egg.

By 9:22 a.m. as rain began to fall, there were 29 buckets of toys yet to be claimed by older children on the first hunt.

Two worried-looking young girls approached Belanger and asked if any eggs had yet to be found and returned in Mexico.

“Do you still have clues?” one girl hesitantly asked.

Their anxiety vanished in an instant when Belanger told them that three of four eggs hidden at Meroby Elementary School had yet to be found, there was still one at Walmart, and two at the Region 9 School of Applied Technology.

Then, quick as a flash, with a couple of “thank-yous” hurriedly tossed over their shoulders as they ran, the girls dashed out of the fire station, happy to be back in the hunt.

“It’s coming along nicely,” Belanger said. “We don’t have many eggs left to find.”

By 9:30 a.m., Belanger counted off 22 locations in Byron, Dixfield, Mexico, Peru and Rumford from which eggs had yet to be returned.

She said she was surprised that no one had yet found the egg hidden at the Mexico Fire Station and asked firefighter Jamee Theriault, who hid it, to check if it was still there. It was, Theriault said after a quick look-see.

Unlike the older children’s egg hunt, the younger children’s search was over and done with in less than a minute in one mad rush for eggs blown out of hiding places and rolling across the parking lot.

Other eggs in plain sight were under picnic tables, on lawns, under small softwood trees, and on one a firefighter’s parked sport-utility vehicle.

One little boy leading the pack, gleefully scooped up half a dozen eggs before another youth reminded him he could only take one.

The egg “hoarder” then dropped all but one in the parking lot and children rushed for the eggs.

Once the retrieval process was complete, children and their parents, relatives or friends stood in line between the gazebo and the fire station as Theriault and another young woman traded toy-filled pails for eggs.

By 9:30 a.m., there were 14 of 125 toy pails leftover from the younger children’s egg hunt.

Firefighters, who filled the pails with toys the night before for the Easter Bunny, said they would give them to any young children who showed up late.

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