LEWISTON — The Toys for Tots boxes in the Sherwin-Williams Lisbon Street paint store are overflowing with toys. Dan’s toys.

Stuffed animals, a fleet of firetrucks, a fire station, a rocking horse, games, balls, trucks and dolls destined for poor boys and girls this Christmas were put there in memory of Dan Bernier.

Bernier, 58, was a Sherwin-Williams driver who died unexpectedly Nov. 17. In early November, Bernier made it his personal crusade that this year the Marine Corps toy boxes would be filled.

During the first week of November Marines in dress uniforms came in and set up empty boxes.

Afterwards, Store Manager Steve Smith Smith said to Bernier, “I’m surprised they brought those here again. They tried it one time,” but few toys were donated.

Business at a paint store isn’t hopping in December, when consumers are more focused on putting up holiday decorations than painting. “Last time they put up boxes there were three little toys in the box. It was embarrassing,” Smith said.

That wouldn’t happen again, Bernier pledged. “Dan looked at me and said, ‘Those boxes are going to be full this year.’”

Bernier drove the paint store’s blue van and box truck making deliveries. On his rounds he asked customers to donate a toy for Toys for Tots. He asked the same of friends and family.

“He was going to make damn sure the kids had a really good Christmas,” store worker Michelle Barbay said. “That was Dan, the way he was. If it had anything to do with kids, he jumped in whole hog.”

Smith described Bernier as a hard worker, a nice guy.

“He had the biggest smile, the biggest laugh and the biggest heart of anyone I knew,” Smith said, trying to hold back tears. “He loved Lewiston-Auburn. He graduated from Lewiston High School in 1973, and he lived in Auburn for the last 30 years.”

He and the former Doris Lepitre were married for 34 years. They raised two daughters. They were happy.

“Life was good,” Doris said, crying. “He had a huge personality. If you were called his friend, you were the luckiest person on Earth.”

A few days before he died Bernier was at his desk, Smith recalled.

Bernier rolled back in his chair, looked at Smith and said, “This is the best fall ever. The Red Sox won the World Series. I shot the biggest buck ever on opening day. My little grandson’s here.”

Nine days before he died, his daughter gave birth to their first grandchild, a boy named Teo.

“He sat in the waiting room for eight hours for this little guy,” Doris said. “He knew him for nine days.” When they became grandparents, “he told me ‘We’re entering a whole new chapter in our life.’ He was so excited.”

On Nov. 16, a Saturday, he went hunting with his nephew. “That night he told his wife he was tired,” Smith said. “He was an early riser. He didn’t wake up.”

The cause of death was a heart attack, his wife said.

The last time Bernier was in the Sherwin-Williams store, the Toys for Tots boxes were empty. The morning after he died, toys started coming in.

Among the toys are firetrucks, a tribute to Bernier’s father, Leo, who was a Lewiston firefighter, something Bernier was proud of, Doris said. People have donated checks made out to Toys for Tots.

The toys and checks will be turned over to the Marines when they show up to collect on Dec. 16. “They’ll be surprised,” Smith said.

Store workers welcome more new and unwrapped toys, or checks, in memory of their friend, Smith said.

“We’ve got this whole sales floor we could fill,” Barbay said. On Christmas morning, “we want every kid in Lewiston-Auburn to have a Dan Bernier smile,” Smith said.

Doris is touched that Dan’s toys are arriving. “He had a soft spot for kids, especially the disadvantaged,” she said. “I’m sure he’s smiling.”

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TOPSHAM — The Toys for Tots coordinator for Central Maine said he was touched that Dan Bernier’s last request was that toys be donated for poor children this Christmas.

“I was stunned, really surprised,” said Marine Reserve 1st Sgt. Tym Bunnell of the Marines Reserve headquarters in Topsham, adding they’ll soon make a visit to pick up toys at the Sherwin-Williams store.

The Central Maine Toys for Tots program has 170 drop-off box locations in eight counties. Bunnell said he has limited capacity, only 10 Marines, to collect and distribute the toys.

The need for help is great, Bunnell said. The number of request for toys this year is larger than last year, when there were requests to help more than 10,000 children.

“We work with nonprofit agencies who identify children in need,” Bunnell said. “We collect the toys, bring them to Brunswick,” then distribute them to community nonprofit agencies. “They send us requests with children broken down by age and gender. We fill requests as we can.”

The last day to donate to Toys for Tots is Dec. 16.


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