Three men in dress uniforms manned their stations Sunday night at the Bangor Mall. Their target was spotted just inches away, through the plate glass Kay Bee Toy and Hobby store window: toys of all shapes, sizes and persuasions for the Marine ROTC Toys for Tots campaign.
Despite economic woes and cold weather, the two large boxes at the feet of the ROTC volunteers quickly filled with Matchbox cars, stuffed bears, Shoes Galore Barbie and, of course, uniformed G.I. Joe action figures.
“Every weekend I’ve been here, we’ve gone out with a van-load of toys,” said Ed Meckfessel, an active-duty staff member with the Naval ROTC at the university.
Meckfessel, Midshipman Jason Cutter and Sgt. Greg Simms were manning the last shift of the Bangor toy drive. UMaine ROTC volunteers have been collecting donations for the last three weekends.
Simms, a student at UMaine, didn’t expect giving levels to be high this year, due to a shaky economy. But his expectations were exceeded.
“I think the general public doesn’t want to be in a slump,” Simms said. “People have been extremely generous.”
One family that made an impression on him had decided not to give presents to each other this season — just to charitable organizations. And he won’t forget the little girl who wanted to throw a toy in the box, but who was too small to reach over the edge or the 5-year-old boy who gave them his $2 Canadian coin.
“It’s great, the generosity the community has given,” Simms said.
The collected toys will be taken to a joint reserve center in Topsham, where they will be sorted and distributed by the Salvation Army and other charitable organizations to needy Maine children.
The three men were animated as they talked about the toys that they’ve seen dropped in the boxes. From the $2 coin to a $60 remote-controlled monster truck, shoppers haven’t stinted about opening their pockets for needy kids.
“The majority of toys are $10.00 and up,” Simms said. “There’s nothing rinky-dink about it.”
All three concurred, however, that their favorite toy thus far was a mobile artillery unit on a reconnaissance mission.
Lynn Racine, an assistant at Kay Bee, said she was amazed by the support for the toy drive.
“At least 25 percent of our business today has gone for Toys for Tots,” she said. “I can’t get over how generous everyone is over here.”
Brenda Duggan, a shopper from Milbridge, handed Meckfessel some folded bills, and spoke of her particular interest in this military charity.
“I’m a retired Navy wife, and I say that proudly. I’m definitely happy to support Toys for Tots. They do a great job,” she said.
Later that afternoon, Rose and Gary Smart from the Riverside Community Center in Lincoln stopped by the collection site. The couple helps to distribute toys in their district.
“I’ve had little kids hug my legs, I’ve had moms cry and say that they never had new things for their kids before,” Rose Smart said. She said their list of names of needy kids is already three times as long as that of last year’s, and that funding has been elusive. The Lincoln group depends on Toys For Tots to fill the gaps.
The ROTC contingent made plans to help with the distribution in Lincoln next week to follow through on their collection in person.
“It’s one thing to sit here and see these toys, it warms your heart,” Simms said. “I can’t explain how much better it will be to see the kids get the toys.”