BRATTLEBORO -- Roger Aquadro strolled through Brattleboro on a cloudy November morning, setting up barrels around town for the annual Marine Corps League Toys for Kids campaign.
The former Marine, wearing a USMC hat and shirt, has assisted with the campaign over the last five years. On Thursday, he put three specialized collection barrels out at the Eagles Club, the Agway along Putney Road and the Carl M. Dessaint VFW Post 1034 to begin accumulating presents for families in need.
"When they are filled, we get called and we go pick them up. The Legion lets us use the space downtown," Aquadro said. "We’ll get them all out."
For the last two decades, the Brattleboro Detachment and Auxiliary Unit 798 ensures around 500 area children have a present for the holidays through the Marine Corps League Toys for Kids campaign.
The local detachment and their volunteers have scheduled 15 minute "shopping sessions" for parents or guardians at the lower level of the American Legion Post No. 5 on Linden Street as part of the annual distribution in the greater Brattleboro area.
"It’s a great personal feeling you get for helping children," said Richard Hodgdon, commandant of the unit and chairman of the campaign, who has been with Toys for Kids since its inception.
"We typically take care of 300 families plus. We also donate toys to the [Brattleboro Area Drop In Center], about four or five loads. Generally we give out anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a year," he said. "We like to do as much as we can. We’re in good shape this year, so that’s good, but a more than usual amount of people are signing up. It will be big again this year, it gets bigger every year."
Hodgdon, of Brattleboro, is a decorated Marine veteran who served in Vietnam. Aquadro, of Dummerston, was in the Marines from 1953 to 1956, working mainly at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
"We have a saying in the Marine Corps -- once a Marine, always a Marine," Aquadro said. "Plus, Marines take care of each other, even when they get out."
And that service extends to the greater community once Marines are out of active duty.
"We don’t want any kids falling through the cracks if we can help it," Hodgdon said. "We feel like we’re making a difference ... it’s very humbling just to be down here, seeing the looks on peoples’ faces when we help them out."
By the end of the month, organizers will have tables covered with toys in the basement of the American Legion. The toys are sorted by age, so parents can look for an age appropriate present for their children.
"Each child gets two gifts and a stocking stuffer. They are not with the parents, the parents come and pick the presents out minus the children," Aquadro said. "I’ve heard more than one parent say if they didn’t get this, that my kids wouldn’t be getting anything for Christmas at all."
The Toys for Kids campaign, working in conjunction with the Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, are disbursed locally in Vermont. The Brattleboro Detachment and Auxiliary Unit began working on the campaign in the early 1990s with the fire department, who previously had run the Toys for Kids for more than 40 years.
The Marine unit 798 started scheduling appointments for the Toys for Kids project last Monday. Appointments are taken between 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays through Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Families wishing to utilize in the program may call 802-257-0001 between the specified times. Participants must have the Social Security or Medicaid numbers for their children -- ages 12 and under -- and when coming for the scheduled appointment.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.