Detachment 798 Commandant and program chairman Richard Hodgdon, left, and Post 5 Commander Richard Guthrie hold toys at the American Legion where they host
Detachment 798 Commandant and program chairman Richard Hodgdon, left, and Post 5 Commander Richard Guthrie hold toys at the American Legion where they host the Marine Corps League Toys for Kids campaign. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Thursday December 16, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Every holiday season, the Brattleboro Detachment and Auxiliary Unit 798 ensure about 500 area children will have a merry Christmas through the Marine Corps League Toys for Kids campaign.

For nearly two decades, the local detachment and volunteers have scheduled 15-minute "shopping sessions" for parents or guardians at the lower level of the American Legion Post #5 on Linden Street as part of the annual distribution in the greater Brattleboro area.

"We don't want any kids falling through the cracks if we can help it," said Detachment 798 Commandant Richard Hodgdon, chairman of the Toys for Kids campaign.

Standing before several tables covered in toys in the basement of the American Legion, Hodgdon prepares for the first appointment at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

Volunteers began making appointments in November and started distributing gifts Dec. 1. The toys are sorted into age groups, so parents can look for an age appropriate present for their children.

"We feel like we're making a difference," Hodgdon said, now in his 18th Toys for Kids campaign.

"It's very humbling just to be down here, seeing the looks on peoples' faces when we help them out," he added. "We just want to help."

The American Legion allows the campaign to use its basement as a holding area for the toys. Post Commander Richard Guthrie said the Toys for Kids is one of the proudest projects for the legion.

The campaign provides more than 2,000 toys annually to local children. Several loads are also donated to the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center and to other area causes that may require toys.

"We're not in the business to store the toys, we want to get them out to people," Hodgdon said. "We try to get them all in so no kid goes without a toy."

With the tough economic climate this season, the number of children receiving gifts is expected to reach 700. Specialized collection barrels have been spread around the county at nearly two dozen sites to hold the presents.

To raise additional funds, the campaign hosts a jamboree each October as a kickoff at the Carl M. Dessaint VFW Post 1034.

The Toys for Kids campaign, working in conjunction with the Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, disburses toys locally in Vermont.

The Brattleboro Detachment and Auxiliary Unit began working on the campaign in the early 1990s with the fire department, which previously had run the Toys for Kids for more than 40 years.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.