MREMA’s inspiration behind Toys for Tots & Teens.
By Corinne Van Peursem
In 1947, Diana Hendricks, wife of Major Bill Hendricks, wanted to donate a homemade Raggedy Ann doll to a child but could not find an organization to do so. This so inspired her husband that at her suggestion, he gathered a group of local Marine reservists, including Lieutenant Colonel John Hampton who coordinated and collected some 5,000 toys for local children that year from collection bins placed outside of Warner Bros. movie theaters. Their efforts were so successful that, in 1948, Toys for Tots was launched as a national campaign.
For myself, it started with a cabbage patch doll donated to a sick child on Christmas Eve in honor of my grandmother who raised me from the age of 6. Christmas Eve was my grandmother’s birthday so each year our family would gather to celebrate. Grammie never wanted presents, just the gift of our presence. She always said she had everything she needed, the love of her family. She died in January of 1982.
The Christmas after her death was extremely mournful for me. The woman who was the focus for my holidays was no longer with me, only in spirit. So it was with that Spirit that I purchased the most sought after doll of the year and donated it to the Pediatrics Ward at Maine Medical Center. I will never forget handing the doll to a very stunned nurse, tears running down my cheeks and simply saying,“ Please give her to a child who will love her”.
Months later I learned of the little girl who received the doll and how it brightened her Christmas Day. I decided that if I could make such a difference by donating one gift, I would have a party in my home each year and ask that my guests donate a gift to a needy child so they too would experience the wonderful experience of giving. Before I knew it, I was hosting “The Event” of the Season. I believe it was because those parties weren’t about the commercialization of the holiday, but rather, brought friends together in the true Spirit of the Season. Their generosity helped put the Merry in Christmas for so many deserving children.
In 1994, as a member of the Maine Real Estate Managers’ Association, I approached the board members with the idea of conducting their own Toys for Tots fund raiser in association with the Marine Corps Reserves, with MREMA’s focus on Teens because most organizations did not provide presents for children above the age of 12. The decision was unanimous and I was overwhelmed by the number of volunteers who came forward. Members with trucks drove to pick up toys at our drop off sites. Other members targeted homeless shelters to see where we could assist their young residents. Our elderly residents donated knitted hats and mittens!
The Marine Corps Reserve were not allowed to solicit for cash donations, which is where MREMA really came in handy. We contacted our vendors for donations, organized events at the UMO Hockey games and stood side by side the Marines collecting cash donations. Coach Shawn Walsh volunteered the Maine Black Bears for special events at the Bangor Mall to assist the Marines in collecting toys. Our first fund raising dinner with live auction was held at The Portland Club! U-Haul donated their trucks so that we could deliver all the toys we collected and purchased with funds raised. And Ames opened their doors at 5:00 AM and provided us with personal shoppers to help us fill our orders in addition to a hefty discount.
22 years later, MREMA is one of the largest contributors to the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots fund raiser with over half a million dollars in donations raised. Every year, thousands of children have found presents under their tree because of MREMA’s efforts; especially the many teens living in group homes throughout the State of Maine.
Although I may have initially spearheaded this union, the volunteers of MREMA have continued to dedicate countless hours to making a difference in the life of a needy child. Their steadfast commitment is unwavering and humbling.
Two woman, each with the desire to donate a doll. One for unknown reasons, one in memory of her grandmother’s love.