WOONSOCKET — Christine Arel was hoping people would show up for the Woonsocket Police Toy Drive collection and Penny Social at the All Saints Church Hall last Saturday morning and afternoon... and she wasn’t disappointed.
A steady stream of donors stopped in at the event to either drop off toys for local kids in need or to buy raffle tickets on the many items and gift certificates available in the Penny Social organized by the family in memory of Arel’s late brother, Woonsocket Police dispatcher Ron Auger.
The Augers, the Police Department and Woonsocket Council 113 of the Knights of Columbus have turned the event into one of the primary collections for the Police Toy Drive helping local children for the past 21 years.
“It’s wonderful. I had a lot of help this year and people have been very very, generous, we have received tons of toys and also many cash donations,” Arel said.
The collection drew the likes of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III and City Councilman Jon Brien, as well as number of police department patrol and dispatch members and general volunteers.
Arel needed the extra help in setting up the toy drive fundraiser after her daughter, Rebecca, went into the hospital on Oct. 2 for brain surgery to fix a diagnosed abnormality. Everything worked out fine for Rebecca and she, too, attended the collection, but the hospital stay left her family with less time to work on the fundraiser than it normally has, Arel noted.
“I had to ask for a lot of help and I got it,” Arel said.
The Arels and Augers started doing the joint collection with the Knights of Columbus in part because Ron’s dad, Ovide Auger is a member of Council 113. They also put on a toy collection at their 329 Wood Avenue home as the drive’s wrap up event and will host that on Dec. 15 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Saturday was the seventh combined fundraiser put on by the Knights and Augers, Jeff Gaulin, a past Grand Knight for Council 113 and R.I. Program Director for the Knights of Columbus, explained.
The group collected 400 toys at last year’s event and Gaulin said the goal on Saturday was to collect at least that number and one more gift before it ended at 2 p.m.
“At 12:30 p.m., we had 345,” Gaulin said while predicting the collection would reach its goal and more.
The local Knights have worked with members of the Police Department on other community service project’s like the annual Cops Walk fundraiser for the family members of fallen officers and Gaulin said the toy drive is a good example of that partnership.
“Charity is one of the core principals of the Knight of Columbus and our involvement in the toy drive is an important part of that,” he said.
The toy collection also helps members of the police department in reaching out to the community they serve, according to Gaulin.
“The police are seen in a positive environment helping people as opposed to being cops answering a call to a home,” he said. “It’s also a great experience for the police officers.”
As part of Saturday’s set up, the local Knights of Columbus Council was also taking donations of new clothing for its ROVAC (Remembering Our Veterans at Christmas) program. Clothing such as t-shirts, socks, jackets, hats and gloves can be dropped off at All Saints or at WNRI Radio on Diamond Hill Road through Dec. 13. The collected items will be distributed through the R.I. Veterans Home, Gaulin said.
Paul Bourget, chairman of the Woonsocket School Committee and current Grand Knight for Council 113, said toy collection and Penny Social was a “signature event” for the local Knights’ charitable work.
It also allows his organization to work with the Auger family, who he has known for years, he noted.
“This is a labor of love and it brings the community together at Christmastime,” Bourget said.
“It kicks off the Christmas season and it helps local children and the Knights are happy to sponsor that because it is what we do,” Bourget added.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said it was “wonderful” to see the collaboration between all the groups working on the toy collection.
“It’s always heart-warming when you see a cause that was begun years ago continuing on with as much enthusiasm and love as is displayed here today,” Baldelli-Hunt said.
The toy drive is just one of the community assistance projects taken on by the Police Department, she noted. Some of the officers attending Saturday actually had beards longer that what would be allowed under department rules because they are raising money for the fight against childhood cancer as part of No-Shave November and Double-Down December, she said. Participating officers contribute $50 for each of the months they wear a beard, she and Chief Oates explained.
Patrolman Alex Simmons noted that the participating officers do get some quizzical looks from people when they go on a call but those usually turn to smiles when they hear about the fundraising behind the beards.
Oates said the department’s members are always doing “a lot of things behind the scenes” while serving their community but sometimes it is also good to be a bit more visible with that.
“This is little more public, but they are certainly very engaged in the community and go above and beyond their regular tour of duty and really care about the citizens in the community,” Oates said.
Det. Sgt. John Scully, drive coordinator, said the event went very well.
“It was a very good start,” Scully said while noting the drive appeared to be well along toward its goal of helping out local children this year.
“Right now I have 275 families signed up,” Scully said while noting the requests for assistance already received by the department.
Anyone looking for help with the holidays can contact Scully at 401-767-8857 to make arrangements for assistance, he said.
Follow Joseph Nadeau on Twitter @JNad75