He has the holiday spirit! Toys for Tots serves 230-plus children

WARM WELCOME TO TOY LAND — Volunteer Howard Summerford of Bridgton greeted local families who picked up toys at the Bridgton Alliance Church vestry last Thursday through the Toys for Tots program. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Howard Summerford knew the best way to get into the Christmas spirit was to help someone else.

Wearing a Santa’s cap, Howard greeted moms and dads last Thursday morning as they ventured into the Bridgton Alliance Church’s vestry. To their delight, they saw tables lining all three walls, full of toys likely on their children’s wish lists.

It was Toys for Tots pickup day. A 20-foot U-Haul delivered the items, which were “packed right up to the back doors,” Howard said.

“It was amazing,” Howard said. “It was a blessing. We could not get over how much was in it.”

The local church serves as a distribution point for the popular holiday program. Pastor Mike Zullo reported that 67 families were served this year, meaning 230-plus children will enjoy a merry Christmas in 11 days.

Either a pink or blue sheet of paper was taped to each table, along with an age range to assist shoppers with finding gifts for their girls and boys. Each child receives three gifts and three stocking stuffers. And for the moms, there was a stocked basket. Understanding the need to bring a family closer, each shopper can select a game — intended as a family gift.

“We encourage family,” he added.

If they needed guidance or a suggestion, Howard was eagerly awaiting to assist.

“This is my first time, and I am loving it,” said Howard, who is a semi-retired truck driver from Bridgton. “I’m a staunch Christian. All I want to do is do something to serve the Lord. This is my way of doing it.”

He talked with shoppers to help them find the right toy fit for their children. If a child is “slightly ahead for his or her age,” Howard might direct the mom or dad to the next age level table to find a more suitable gift.

“We want the child to be engaged,” he said. “We want the child to enjoy the gift, and not play with it one time and then throw it to the side. That’s why I ask that question so they are not bored with it.”

Throughout the day, Howard heard many families express their deepest appreciation to receive the donated toys. Some folks were a tad shy, but after talking with Howard for a few minutes, many “warmed up” to the spirited volunteer.

Howard sensed that many moms and dads — maybe a little down on their luck recently — may have been a little reluctant to seek assistance, but “once they look into the eyes of their child, they realize it’s not about me, it’s about the child.”

“It’s so touching. I try to be kind. I’ve told every one of them that we could not do this by ourselves. There are not enough people in this church to do this. This is because of the love of God,” Howard said. “It touches me that I can be a small part of making someone else’s holiday a little better.”

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