Obama honors annual toy drive
Carole Levine and Allen Lapan stand with some of the toy donations they have received so far this year.
This year’s “1,001 Smiles Toy Drive” started on Monday, Nov. 28, and is co-organized by the College’s Student Post Office Supervisor Allen Lapan and College Bookstore Merchandising Clerk Carole Levine, who have made it their personal mission to ensure that every child in the Waterville, Skowhegan and Augusta area have at least one gift to unwrap on Christmas morning.
“It first started with my church in 1996,” Lapan said. “The goal was to collect 1,001 toys but it was a small church so we tapped into the Colby network because we knew that Colby students do a lot of great things in the community and would want to get involved.”
Nicknamed “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus,” Lapan and Levine raise funds for the toy drive throughout the year by collecting used books from faculty, students and staff to sell them on Amazon.com. Lapan and Levine also rely on donations of new or “previously loved” toys, Lapan said. Students leave the toys in the donation boxes set up at the Student Post Office and the in College Bookstore.
The Kennebec Valley Community Action Program distributes the donations to families in need.
“We serve not only the child, but the family, too,” Lapan said. “It’s devastating to wake up and not have anything to unwrap. It makes you feel unloved; upsets your whole belief system. But it’s equally devastating to not be able to give your child a present.” Money that is donated too late to purchase a toy is used to buy a Christmas meal for families who can’t typically afford one or to buy gifts for adults to give away as thank you gifts.
“It can be embarrassing when you receive a gift and can’t reciprocate, so we like to be able to give people the chance to have something to give in return,” Lapan said.
The toy drive collected about 800 toys its first year, but last year it surpassed its goal and donated 1,600 toys. Lapan and Levine’s efforts received national acknowledgment in 2009 with a letter from President Barack Obama.
“I’ve had great feedback from the agencies—they’re overwhelmed with the number of toys. People have had to come by in trucks to pick them up,” Lapan said. “The support of both the students and the administration is overwhelming at times.”
Most toys aren’t big or expensive, and not all are new. The most common donations are coloring books and play dough, although Lapan remembers receiving a used bike from a local family one year.
Levine became involved with the toy drive as soon as she arrived at the College in 2000 and has helped Lapan collect donations and shop for toys ever since.
“It’s touching to see people be so generous when we all are going through difficult economic times,” she said.
Although the Toy Drive is a serious time commitment, both Lapan and Levine are dedicated to raising money and distributing toys year after year.
“[Levine] and I both grew up with less than most kids have and that’s been the catalyst for all this,” Lapan said.
Thus far, Lapan and Levine have collected $2,000 in money donations from their used-book sales online this year and are hoping to be able to collect a record number of toys. “The moment when students drop off toys is so emotional for me,” Lapan said.
Members of the College community can drop off toys at the Colby Bookstore or the Student Post Office through Dec. 22. Cash donations are also welcome, as Santa and Mrs. Claus are more than happy to do the Christmas shopping.
“We get funny looks when we fill some eight or nine shopping carts full of toys,” Lapan said with a smile. “It’s great to be able to overwhelm [KVCAP] with the number of toys. It’s never quite enough, of course, but we do what we can. I love imagining the joy of these kids when they wake up on Christmas morning with a toy—nothing is more important than that smile.”