Making Christmas Merry One Toy At A Time At The Family Pantry

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: Harwich , Holidays , Social services , Community events

Volunteer elves, scads of toys, and more than 115 bicycles made the annual Toy Day event at The Family Pantry of Cape Cod memorable. DEBRA DECOSTA PHOTO

HARWICH The Family Pantry of Cape Cod is typically closed on Sundays, but Dec. 17 was different. It was Toy Day, an annual event that this year will allow more than 600 families to celebrate Christmas with a little something special.

Pulling off the feat that is Toy Day requires immense dedication and determination, not to mention planning, the latter of which begins in at the start of September, long before anyone has the holidays on their minds. The folks at the Family Pantry, however, don their Christmas caps early and open registration to the children of clients on Sept. 1, knowing it takes a village to make Toy Day a success.

This year more than 1,100 children were at the heart of a drive to collect toys, clothes, bicycles, gift cards, winter coats, hats, gloves, and mittens, as well as food for families and funds to benefit the Family Pantry. Thanks to the generosity of the local community, Toy Day was triumphant and the toy room that was nearly empty in October was full to bursting by the time Toy Day arrived.

There were dolls and teddy bears, race cars and rockets, and all manner of play sets. There were books for young readers, more than one snow-ready sled, and in the big back warehouse, a collection of more than 100 bicycles purchased from the Dennis Cycle Center by the Armbruster, Morong, and Nitti families (with a nod to an additional anonymous donor), and put together by DCC's own Matt Van Gelder for lucky winners of the bike lottery.

Meanwhile, in an adjacent space, all manner of elf helpers bustled to and fro collecting clothing sized for children of specific ages that included cozy pajama sets donated by the Griffin family, while the Knights of Columbus contributed 50 brand new coats in keeping with their ongoing traditions. To ensure warm heads and hands, the warm hearts of the Chatham Women's Club supplied hats and mittens.

While many of the toys carefully chosen for each child were given by individual donors, a number were collected by members of the Harwich and Dennis Police and Fire Departments, who welcomed contributions during their annual Homeless for the Holidays drive that saw the dedicated crews remain at their posts in Brooks Park in Harwich and at Stop and Shop in Dennis two weekends ago in spite of some truly awful weather.

The Men's Club of Cape Cod added $1,500 in games and puzzles to the mix, setting the stage for a wealth of family fun, while the Junior Women's league donated $7,000 to the overall program, with TJX Companies, the parent corporation of TJ Maxx, Marshall's, and HomeGoods, adding $5,000 in gift cards.

But in order to make Toy Day a truly memorable – and rewarding – event, the Family Pantry needed people. Lots of people, each of whom arrived early on Sunday morning, most clad in their finest Christmas attire, ready to roll out the bikes, bags, and bundles of goodies to families in need.

Pantry directors Jenn Eldredge and Toni London put on their head elf caps, overseeing a crew of 80 enthusiastic volunteer elves that worked together seamlessly to fill bags and ferry them to grateful clients. To say the crew had their system down pat would be an understatement. It was impressive to watch as volunteers took turns between fetching gifts and handing bags to families, with more than a few happy tears in the mix. One volunteer elf remarked to another, “I had a mother look at her bag of toys and start to cry. She was so grateful.”

Toy bags were organized according to age, with clothing in separate bags by size and gender.

“I need a boy, age 5!” came the call. With practiced haste, the volunteer elves handed off a bag of toys to which was added a smaller bag of clothes, a warm winter coat, and a snazzy hat and mittens, the finished bundle then brought to the front to be given to a waiting parent. As a final touch, clients were able to choose a family game from among hundreds lining the shelves.

One-by-one the bags and bicycles went out the door, each time with a smile, and with wishes for a happy holiday made possible through the kindness of a community devoted to making sure everyone could enjoy a very merry Christmas.

As it does each year, The Cape Cod Chronicle is challenging its readers to contribute to the Family Pantry through our annual Helping Neighbors campaign. To help, visit www.CapeCodChronicle.com and click on the Helping Neighbors logo, or send a tax-deductible donation to The Family Pantry, 133 Queen Anne Rd., Harwich, MA 02645 (please write ” Helping Neighbors ” in the memo line).