LEWISTON — Two Marines in dress uniform walked into the Sherwin-Williams paint store Thursday, looked at boxes heaped with toys and smiled.

“Oh wow. This is more than I thought,” 1st Sgt. Tym Bunnell said of the trucks, dolls, games and stuffed animals galore.

“We need extra boxes,” Bunnell said. “You said you had three boxes. This is five. This is impressive. Thank you very much.”

Last week, there were two large boxes filled with toys. After a Dec. 8 Sun Journal story was published about the late Dan Bernier, people brought in more toys in his memory.

“Monday morning, the Marines came in with a big box,” Store Manager Steve Smith said. “By the end of the day, it was full.”

Bernier, 58, of Auburn died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was remembered as having a big smile and an even bigger soft spot for children, especially disadvantaged children at Christmas.

Two weeks before he died, Bernier made it his personal crusade to ensure the Toys for Tots boxes at his store this year were filled. Two years ago, the boxes only attracted a few toys. He told his boss things would be different this year. Bernier asked customers, family and friends to donate a toy.

When he died, the store’s toy boxes were empty. The Monday after his death, toys started coming in.

“We’re humbled that this was on his mind,” said Sgt. Bunnell, Toys for Tots coordinator for Central Maine. “We are humbled that folks responded to that. This is absolutely amazing.” It illustrates the giving nature of people in the community, he said. The toys “will go a long way.”

Major Adam Sacchetti said the toys and checks will help children in the community.

“In two weeks, these toys will be in the hands of kids in this area,” Sacchetti said. There are many good national charities, but donations don’t always directly impact local people in need, he said.

Some people ask why the Marines help drum up toys. There are many good organizations that help by giving food and clothing. Toys “help the heart,” Bunnell said.

While many donate new toys, others give the Marines checks that help them fill in gaps of needed toys for certain ages.

Susan Michaud-Bosse, who works in Lewiston, came to the store to hand the Marines a $18,443 check, money raised by the Maine Real Estate Managers Association.

The state group of property managers held their annual dinner and silent auction Dec. 6 and raised the money, plus $1,500 worth of toys, for the charity, she said. They also help nine Maine group homes and the Good Shepherd Food-Bank.

“It’s never enough as far as I’m concerned,” Michaud-Bosse said.

Looking at the toys donated in Bernier’s memory, Michaud-Bosse said her husband knew Dan. They admired that helping children “was his goal, his mission. You guys pulled it off,” she said to Sherwin-Williams store workers. “There’s a lot of toys in there.”

With the donations, the Marines said they’ll buy a total of $65,000 worth of toys this season. And they shop local. “We kicked off our campaign at the Oxford Hills Walmart, buying $12,000 worth of toys. I called the manager and told him, ‘clear the registers. We’re coming and spending thousands.’”

As of Thursday, the Toys for Tots program had 12,225 requests for toys and 2,000 had been filled. Meeting the requests “will be close,” Bunnell said. “Things like this are really what helps.”

In a flash, the Marines and store workers piled the toys in boxes and loaded the boxes in a van.

Store clerk Michelle Barbay said Bernier would be pleased.

“He’d be standing here with tears running down his face with a big smile.”

Dec. 16 is the last day the Marines will pick up new toys. To find out where to drop off a toy or donation, visit topsham-me.toysfortots.org/local-coordinator-sites/lco-sites/default.aspx.

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