Every year, days before Christmas, toys donated from around the community fill the Community Room at the Watertown Police Station in preparation to be distributed to families in need around the community.
The drive is organized by the Sonny Whooley Foundation, named for a former Watertown Police officer known for his generosity, said David Collins, president of the Whooley Foundation.
Over the years, the Whooley Foundation has helped thousands of families, Collins said. This year, an anticipated 180+ families and over 300 children will be presented gifts from the Foundation, said Watertown Police Sgt. Ken Swift, who helps organize the toy collection and distribution.
Collins, who worked for the WPD for 32 years beginning in 1987, spoke during a toy drive hosted by the Rotary Club of Watertown and the Watertown Business Coalition on Monday.
“I worked for many years with many police officers, but none quite like John “Sonny” Whooley,” Collins said. “John ‘Sonny’ Whooley was really a street cop in every sense of the phrase. He knew the community intimately, as well as being respected by residents.”
Whooley would collect money from co-workers, firefighters, members of the community, and he would redistribute the donation to struggling families during the holiday season.
“There were many acts of kindness that Sonny performed in the community and I was lucky enough to be entrusted with helping him with some of these initiatives,” Collins said. “‘People helping people’ was the phrase that we lived by.”
In the late 1980s, a wishing tree was set up at the Waltham District Court where members of the bar association would give money and court employees would shop for families in need, Collins said. The toy drive was moved to the Watertown Police Department in 1993, with the permission of then-Chief Robert Kelly.
The effort has received a lot of help from groups in the community, especially the Marine Corps League.
“The Toys for Tots program, we had an agreement that the Toys for Tots, all of the toys would come to the Whooley Foundation and any money donated would go to the the national Toys for Tots organization,” Collins said. “So, it was a nice collaboration with Toys for Tots, and Ed Aucoin was instrumental in that along with Mike Munger, a former detective with the Watertown Police Department.”
Other businesses and groups that have been generous over the years include Watertown Savings, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Murphy Plumbing and Heating, the Watertown Mall, Collins said, and in more recent years, the Rotary Club of Watertown.
When Whooley died in August, 1996 many donated in his memory.
“Robert Whooley, Sonny’s brother, and Audrey Whooley, Sonny’s wife, were overwhelmed with the generosity and outpouring of donations made on Sonny’s behalf,” Collins said. “The outpouring and giving continued to grow to serve the needs of the community. In 2005, with the permission of Audrey Whooley; Robert Whooley, (Watertown Firefighter) Bobby Mannix, Audrey’s son, (former Watertown Police officer and later Chief) Mike Lawn, Tim McGoldrick, and myself created the Sonny ‘Whooley’ Foundation.”
The toy drive is a collaborative effort, Swift said, where Watertown Police work with multiple groups to collect donations, as well as identifying those in need. The groups include: Watertown Housing, Watertown Public Schools, Watertown Health Department, the Watertown Fire Department, Wayside Multi-Service Center, Rotary Club of Watertown, Watertown Boys and Girls Club, Watertown Business Coalition, Watertown Council on Aging, the Watertown Veterans Agent, the Commander’s Mansion (which runs the Whoville Fundraiser), Watertown City Manager’s Office, Watertown Recreation Department, and the Marine Corps League.
Toys can be dropped off at dozens of locations around Watertown. The last day for toy collection is Dec. 20. Local businesses holding toy drives for the Whooley Foundation include: Watertown Savings Bank, Kraig’s Kempo Karate, Lexus of Watertown, Toyota of Watertown, Comcast, the Watertown Angels Foundation, Hampton Inn & Suites, Mass. General Hospital Watertown, Donohue’s Bar and Grill, Akain Plumbing, the Westin Hotel in Waltham, Grace Chapel Watertown, the Bethesda Group, and Arsenal Yards, Swift said. Also, some members of the Rotary Club of Watertown and the Watertown Business Coalition are participating, said Rotary Club President Kim Severino, including D’Amico Dental, Eastern Clothing, and Branch Line.
The Rotary Club and the Watertown Business Coalition collected dozens of items at a Holiday Mixer and Toy Drive on Dec. 4 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, Severino said.
The toys will be amassed at the Police Station and distributed on Dec. 21, Swift said. Collins said the toys are organized by age group and police officers, firefighters, and volunteers choose toys for families based on the age and gender of the children. If a family has a special need, such as if a child has a disability that prevents them from playing with certain kinds of toys, they can put in a special request, Collins said.
If someone knows of a child in need who should receive a gift, they can contact Sgt. Ken Swift at 617-972-6538.