Giving Back Together Toy Drive marks decade of giving gifts to kids in need

Athol resident Heather Taylor, at left, with Santa Claus and two U.S. Marine Corps Reserve members at the 2021 Giving Back Together Toy Drive collection on the Greenfield Common. Taylor started the toy drive in 2013 to help ensure no child goes without a present on Christmas morning.

Athol resident Heather Taylor, at left, with Santa Claus and two U.S. Marine Corps Reserve members at the 2021 Giving Back Together Toy Drive collection on the Greenfield Common. Taylor started the toy drive in 2013 to help ensure no child goes without a present on Christmas morning. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Athol resident Heather Taylor, second from left, started the Giving Back Together Toy Drive in 2013 to help ensure no child goes without a present on Christmas morning.

Athol resident Heather Taylor, second from left, started the Giving Back Together Toy Drive in 2013 to help ensure no child goes without a present on Christmas morning. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Heather Taylor and volunteer Don Wright pack a bag full of toys at the Giving Back Together Toy Drive distribution for children in need at Faith Church in Greenfield in 2021. The toy drive is entering its 10th year.

Heather Taylor and volunteer Don Wright pack a bag full of toys at the Giving Back Together Toy Drive distribution for children in need at Faith Church in Greenfield in 2021. The toy drive is entering its 10th year. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 11-14-2023 1:04 PM

Heather Taylor knows how it feels to be a child waking up to zero gifts on Christmas morning.

The 38-year-old Athol resident grew up in Spencer, in a household with parents “who chose their addiction over buying presents for me, or my brother or my sister.”

That heartbreak stuck with her and resulted in the Giving Back Together Toy Drive, which she started in 2013.

“My mission is just to make sure no child ever wakes up as forgotten or disappointed as I did,” Taylor said. “I just woke up one morning and said, ‘This year I’m going to figure out how to get toys for kids.’”

She has arranged multiple donation drives between now and Dec. 16, when the toys will be distributed.

People will be entered into a raffle if they bring an unwrapped gift to the downtown-decorating event slated for Athol on Saturday, Nov. 18, from 10 a.m. to noon. There will be cookies and hot cocoa, caroling, holiday window displays and letter-writing to Santa Claus. There will also be a monetary donation boot drive from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19, at the intersection of Main and Federal streets in Greenfield.

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The toy drive is also collaborating with the Erving Police Department for an event at the Erving Senior & Community Center on Saturday, Dec. 2. Community members are encouraged to “Pack the Paddy Wagon” with gifts between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. There will also be an opportunity for pictures with Santa and a chance to meet K-9 Ziva. People are asked to leave their own pets at home.

“We’re just looking to pack a cruiser with as many toys as we can get, so we can just get those to the children in the area [and] help them have a better Christmas,” Erving Police Chief Robert Holst said.

The chief said his department got connected with Taylor through Officer Laura Gordon, who previously worked for the Greenfield Police Department.

Taylor stressed there is a particular need for gifts for youth ages 13 to 17.

She mentioned the toy drive initially accepted gently used goods “because something used was better than nothing at all.” However, she and the other mothers who run the drive had to end this practice when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020.

“We don’t have the capacity to clean used toys,” she said.

Greenfield toy drop-off locations are Sandri Energy at 400 Chapman St. from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Ford and Toyota of Greenfield at 1 Main St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, WHAI at 81 Woodard Road from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the porch at 86 Aster Court anytime day or night.

Outside of Greenfield, people can drop off gifts at North Quabbin Community Coalition at 251 Exchange St. in Athol from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and anytime at the 77 Second St. porch in Turners Falls, the porch at 10 Mechanic St. in Shelburne Falls and 88 Brown St. in Athol.

Anyone who is interested in donating, fundraising, volunteering or supporting the Giving Back Together Toy Drive can send a message through its Facebook page or via givingbacktogether@yahoo.com.

Taylor said the most convenient way to contribute is through the Amazon Wish List at bit.ly/3G0shB3. People can also donate at paypal.me/givingbacktogether77 and via Venmo at @givingback77. Gift cards are also accepted.

Toys will be distributed at Faith Church at 331 Silver St. in Greenfield from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16. Adults are asked to bring a child’s birth certificate or other proof they are raising a child.

Anyone with questions can call or send a text message to 413-834-3893.

Taylor said there were 641 children registered to receive toys as of 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 13.

“It’s my baby,” she said of the toy drive. “It’s really just close to my heart.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.