PAWTUCKET — As everyone knows, being a Marine is not about fun and games — except at Christmastime, when they volunteer their valuable time to drum up donations for the annual Toys for Tots program.
In Rhode Island, this year's Toys for Tots program is being supervised by Staff Sgt. Michael Cremin. Under his watch, a handful of local Marines have amassed thousands of new toys for youngsters who would otherwise go without during the holiday season.
Cremin said the Toys for Tots program has been successful over the decades since it was started by the Marines back in 1947. However, he said the program has started to flag a bit in recent years while the current economy has made the need greater than ever. Not one to back down from a challenge, Cremin is committed to making this year's Toys for Tots program in Rhode Island the biggest and best yet—and hopes to lobby support and resources from throughout the state to create a model program for others.
Mayor Donald Grebien and his administration pitched in by donating a large, vacant space on the second floor of the city-owned Visitor Center at 175 Main Street to the Toys for Tots program. Here, thousands of toys are being stored and placed in boxes while awaiting distribution later in December.
The deadline for families to register to receive toys is Wednesday, Dec. 5. This should be done on-line by visiting the national website: www.toysfortots.org , clicking on the link for “Request a Toy,” then “Rhode Island,” and then “Providence.” Once the on-line form is filled out, recipients will receive an e-mail notifying them of how to pick up the toy. The second floor of the Visitor Center will serve as the statewide distribution center.
Donations, both of money and toys, are also still needed. Financial contributions to Toys for Tots can also be made through the website; and new, unwrapped toys may be dropped off at one of the many collection boxes throughout the state (locations are listed on the website). Toys for Tots is also looking for more volunteers, especially for the distribution period in mid-December. This information is also available on the website.
“The need is huge,” said Cremin, at a press conference held Tuesday in Pawtucket. “We have 2,839 families already registered, and by the deadline, I think we will have over 4,000 families looking for toys. Are we going to help every child in need in Rhode Island? Well, we're going to try as hard as we can to help. This program cannot fail,” Cremins stated.
To date, Cremins and his small band of volunteers, three Marines who have suffered injuries in recent deployments, plus a couple their relatives and girlfriends, have collected over 2,000 toys, which will be going to local social service agencies. Yet, he estimates it will take 30,000 to 60,000 toys to meet the requests of individual families statewide. He said his volunteers have been busy reaching out to local businesses and organizations, and there are some 82 events planned between now and Christmas to boost donations.
“This whole program is being run by a handful of Marines with cell phones and a couple of laptops,” said Cremins, acknowledging his volunteer staff. They include Sgt. Thomas Daignault, of Woonsocket, Lance Corporal Robert Angell, of Woonsocket, and Lance Corporal Celestino Rivera of New Haven, Conn.
Mayor Donald Grebien said that when approached by the Marines about finding a suitable space to use as a distribution center, he was happy to oblige, and said he hopes to keep Pawtucket involved in the Toys for Tots effort. “Truly, this is a great program and we have talked about what we can do next year to help,” he stated.
Mike Lyons, of the Pawtucket Red Sox, said the PawSox are also stepping up to the plate by encouraging donations to Toy for Tots at their Dec. 8 Christmas Party at McCoy Stadium featuring Ryan Lavarnway and other players. The Governor's Cup trophy will be on display and the first 300 fans who either bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots or make a $5 donation to the PawSox Charitable Foundation will receive a personalized snow globe with a photo of themselves and the Governor's Cup. “The PawSox are committed to being in front of this effort,” Lyons said.
Also among the upcoming events, Robert Venturini, who has been a supporter of Toys for Tots for 29 years, will be hosting his annual telethon on Dec. 11 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Warwick Mall. Other benefits are being planned locally at Murphy's Law Irish Pub and through the Bobby Doyle Foundation, said Lyons.
More information is available on www.toysfortots.org .