Santa’s Toy Box is a family affair

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Wed., Dec. 5, 2012
Stacey Tilki adds another toy donation to the bus. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Stacey Tilki adds another toy donation to the bus. Photos by Annie Gentile.

When Elizabeth Martorelli first started the Santa’s Toy Box event in 1974 as part of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Stafford Fire Department, she couldn’t have had any idea that 38 years later, it would still be going strong. Nor could she have known that despite the fire department no longer running the event, her children and yet-to-be-born grandchildren would be continuing the tradition.

Yet on Saturday, Dec. 1, that is precisely what was happening, as Martorelli’s family, friends and town staff turned out at Stafford Town Hall for the annual “Stuff-A-Bus” event to help fill a school bus with new, unwrapped toys and gifts for those less fortunate in the Stafford community.

“My dad, Robert Martorelli, used to always play Santa since I was little, but this year my brother Mark has taken over the job,” said Stacey Tilki, Elizabeth Martorelli’s daughter, who was largely coordinating the event this year. Tilki’s daughters, Elizabeth Tilki and Jocelyn Roberts - the latter dressed as an elf for the event - also lent their support.

“I tried to get [my children] all involved as soon as they were ready, and Stacey got involved right away,” said Martorelli. “It’s been nice. We generally have about eight to 10 people who volunteer at this collection and usually a good half dozen volunteers to help us bag the gifts.”

Santa’s Toy Box runs a few fundraisers throughout the year, selling candy bars at local banks, and utilizing banks, schools and local businesses as drop-off points for donations. The effort culminates in the annual Stuff-A-Bus toy collection at Town Hall.

After the Stuff-A-Bus event, at which volunteers collect gifts and cash donations for purchasing gifts, the bus - provided by M&M Bus Company of Stafford - is driven over to the former middle school for individual bagging. Martorelli said they work with the town’s Social Services Department to identify recipients and they coordinate their efforts with other organizations so as not to duplicate efforts.

Local businesses including the Dunkin’ Donuts, Verizon, Subway and Frito-Lay also participated by providing hot coffee, sandwiches, candy and snacks to volunteers and donors.

“I’m a little bummed. I’m usually dressed as a snowman, dancing on the [street] poles, but I just had hip surgery, so that’s out this year,” said family friend Candy Sylvain, who pitched in anyway to count cash donations.

Standing nearby in Santa hats, Rob Sears and Cathy Smith, who were volunteering for their first time, helped out by accepting toy donations and loading them on the bus. “So far the collection has been going really well,” said Sears.

There was a time when Santa used to stop at the individual children’s homes, arriving either on a fire truck or in a school bus to deliver the toys, but that practice ended in 1993 or 1994, Martorelli said. Last year - the need being so great - about 85 area children were served, and families now pick up Santa’s gifts at the former middle school.

“We see people drive by, then come back with gifts because they saw us earlier. We’ve even had people follow us to the middle school,” said Tilki. “It’s a really nice tradition.”

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