South Portland toy drive faces unprecedented demand

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The organizer of an annual holiday toy and clothing drive said she is “panicking” about the growing, long list of students and families already identified for help this holiday season.

Teachers and guidance counselors traditionally send lists of families and students in need to Liz Darling, of Maine Roofing, for the South Portland Christmas Toy Drive. They don’t provide names, but provide coat and boot sizes, and toy ideas based on the students’ ages.

Businesses, groups or individuals can “adopt families” by specifying how many children in a family they’d like to provide with holiday presents.

There are no qualifications for the students or families to meet. Darling said she trusts that teachers know which students could use a little extra help.

“It’s all very discreet and confidential. We never even learn the names,” Darling said. “I trust the teachers to know who to pick.”

The drive, now in its seventh year, has been very successful. Last year, it provided winter attire and presents to more than 200 South Portland children.

But with success comes expectations.

Darling said one of the nine schools in South Portland has already sent a compiled list of about 65 families – 40 more than what was provided last year.

“Some families have five or six kids,” she said. “… So it’s safe to say we’ll have well over 200 kids to provide for this year.”

So far about 12 groups or individuals have volunteered to adopt, according to Darling. One of them is a business that’s committed to shopping for 13 children.

“We are, so far, under adoptions,” Darling said. “… I’ve been panicking.”

For those children who aren’t “adopted,” the drive is also accepting tax-deductible donations, with which volunteers purchase gear and gifts. Checks can be made out to the SPPP Community Needs Fund and mailed to Maine Roofing, 24 Bishop Ave., South Portland, ME 04106. The deadline for tax-deductible donations is Friday, Dec. 7.

“It’s a multi-faceted program,” Darling said.

New, unwrapped toys and/or donations can be brought to Maine Roofing; Evelyn’s Tavern at 121 Sawyer St.; Port Harbor Marine, 1 Spring Point Drive; Local Acapulco, 340 Main St., and Peoples United Bank at Mill Creek.

On Nov. 9, Fore River Brewing, 45 Huntress Ave., will host “Drink for a Cause,” when a portion of the proceeds from 5 p.m. on will benefit the toy drive.

Toys can also be brought to an annual Toy Drive Party on Saturday, Dec. 8, beginning at 6 p.m. at Evelyn’s Tavern.

For more information or to sign up to adopt, call Darling at 767-4243.

The drive is being run in conjunction with local businesses, the South Portland School and Police departments, and the South Portland Police Patrolmen’s Association.

In its first year, Darling said the drive served fewer families, but the process wasn’t as efficient. As awareness around the effort has grown, so has demand.

“Teachers used to get their money together to buy coats and boots … (so) they’re thankful that this is now a program,” she said. “There are a lot more kids listed (in the drive’s seventh year), but the process has gotten easier.”

Once all the toys and winter apparel is collected, the Police Department delivers bags to the school, marked for each family.

“It’s pretty emotional to see,” Darling said. “There are a lot of kids who don’t have anything.”

“We have a long ways to go, but I have faith,” she added. “We’ll pull it together. We always do.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Bill Darling of Maine Roofing in South Portland sorts toys donated for the 2016 South Portland Christmas Toy Drive. This year’s annual campaign has barely begun and is already being overwhelmed with requests to provide children with toys, coats and boots.

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