Thursday morning, the Community Room at the Watertown Police Station turned into Santa’s Workshop, with toys for children of all ages piled up around the room. These gifts were delivered to families around Watertown, and beyond, who otherwise may not have a very Merry Christmas.
The goal of the drive is to make sure that every child has at least one gift to open on Christmas, said Collins, a board member of the Sonny Whooley Foundation. The toy drive was more informal when it was started by Whooley, but these day the foundation bearing his name is a registered non-profit organization.
“It started in two phases. Sonny got cash from friends and collected from places around town,” Collins said. “And he started a toy drive at the (Waltham District) Court in the early ’90s.”
Whooley heard about families that needed some help and distributed the toys to them.
These days, the Whooley Foundation runs the drive, and they get names of families who could use some help during the holidays from the Watertown Public Schools, the Watertown Housing Authority and the Department of Children & Families, Collins said.
Over the years, the toy drive has grown, Collins said.
“There are more toys this year than ever,” Collins said. “The outpouring from the community has been incredible.”
Businesses around town held collections, and other gifts were donated by residents who stopped by the Police Station or Fire Stations. The major contributors this year are: Watertown Police Association, Watertown Police Supervisors Association, Watertown Firefighters Union, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Marine Corps League, Watertown Savings Bank Employees, Porcini’s Restaurant, G.M. Walsh Plumbing and Family, Commonwealth Construction Company, and Athena Health.
On distribution day, each volunteer gets a family, with a list of the children and their ages. Then they pack up a bag and head out to deliver the gifts. Deputy Fire Chief Dan Tardif said it can be challenging to choose the right gifts for some of them.
“I had a family with kids ranging from a 15-year-old boy to a 2-year-old girl,” said Tardif, who said he gave the teen-age boy a gift card.
There are so many gifts this year, that some will to go to families in other communities who could use some help. For instance, this year a firefighter heard about a family with several children, including one who is in the NICU (newborn intensive care unit).
Others will go to the Casserly House in Roslindale. The WPD has an in with the organization, said Officer Rick Munger, whose aunt is a nun who is part of the group that works with the underserved people and new immigrants to the area.
“They don’t just give them toys,” Munger said. “They say you can have them, but you have to help a lady down to the store, or something like that.”
While the toy drive started with the Watertown Police, the Watertown Fire Department also plays a big role in the collection and distribution of the toys, Collins said.
“We reached out to the Firefighters and they jumped in,” Collins said. “They have done three days work in half a day.”
There will be a passing of the torch with the toy drive next year, because Collins will retire from the WPD in February. Many people play a role in the tory drive, but Collins is the stalwart, said Watertown Firefighter and Fire Union President Rob Mannix, who also serves as treasurer for the Whooley Foundation.
“Dave is amazing,” Mannix said. “He and his wife (Marie) do 99 percent of this. Thank God he is staying on the board.”
Collins took over the effort after Whooley died, and he has continued it ever since.
“I do it for the same reason I became a police officer,” Collins said. “To help people and give back to the community.”