Cary Bradbury, left, Katie Houghton, center, and Missie McDonald stand next to the toy drop-off box at Dixfield Discount Fuel in Rumford. The company’s 11th annual toy drive will provide Christmas gifts to schoolchildren ages 5 to 12. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — While so many public events canceled this year, the 11th annual Dixfield Discount Fuel Toy Drive is off and running to bring smiles to local elementary students at Christmastime.

Office Manager Katie Houghton and Missie McDonald, assisted by Vice President Cary Bradbury and their delivery drivers, are leading an effort with area communities to make this their largest toy drive ever.

“We understand that these days are very different than ever before. We get it,” Houghton said. “As we get accustomed to the new COVID lifestyle, we worry about the children struggling out there. We see firsthand the families that are struggling in this area.”

While the toy drive’s first year consisted of one box to a school, last year’s drive included truckloads to all the elementary and middle schools, the Chisholm School, and the Pennacook Learning Center.

This year’s toy drive was hampered at the start by not being introduced at the October Pumpkin Fest and not holding the biggest fundraiser, the Dance for Toys at the Rumford Eagles. Both events were canceled because of the pandemic.

McDonald said the challenge became “figuring out how else can we raise money and get the word out there.”

They sent support letters to 50 local businesses, which are asking for drop-off boxes to fill. Those boxes are being delivered this week.

Dixfield Discount Fuel is holding a toy drive raffle, selling through its Facebook page, Dixfield Discount Fuel, and has an Instagram account, dixfield_discount_fuel.

“This toy drive gets our blood pumping and gets the creativity flowing,” Houghton said. “We are always thinking of more ways to help and make this better and help more children.”

The focus is on items for ages 5-12. Ideas for new unwrapped toys include basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, games, crafts, Legos, Barbies, fishing poles, Nerf items, cars, sleds, hats, mittens, cash and gift cards. People are also welcome to bring their gifts to Dixfield Discount Fuel at 1180 Route 2 in Rumford, or hand it to one of the company drivers. They can also call the office at 562-0972.

The fuel company will offer $10 off delivery of 100 gallons or more with a donation of a new, unwrapped toy.

The toy drive deadline is around mid-December, with the items delivered to the schools the week before Christmas vacation.

Packing up the truck with toys “is like our favorite day!” Houghton said.

She said they also accept gift cards and cash to purchase clothing for children who need it. People can also make checks payable to Dixfield Discount Fuel with “Toy Drive” in the note area.

“It’s put into an account and then we go and fill the wish list,” Houghton said. “We were lucky enough to buy winter coats, snow pants, gloves, hats, sweatshirts, socks, underwear, jeans, shoes and winter boots last year.”

Each school provides a list of name of those who need winter clothes, underwear and socks and organizers try to fill the lists and add a toy.

Last year, through Dollar Tree, they made toiletry bags for 40 middle school students. They contained shampoo, soap, deodorant, tooth brush and similar items, plus a $5 Dunkin’ gift card.

“I have seen over and over the generosity that we have around us,” Houghton said. “This kind of stuff is what makes us proud to be from the River Valley.”

Organizers are inviting children and their families who have previously benefited from the drive to share their stories on how it helped them. They can be submitted anonymously, she said.

McDonald said they’d like to know how many people/families have been helped and ask them to email Houghton at [email protected].

“If we all chip in and help these children in need, it will make a difference. No better time than the holidays,” Houghton said.

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