BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Bertram Russell can’t believe the outpouring of support he’s seen since Toys for Tots donations were stolen from a storage container at his home in Danvers last week.
The four large boxes of toy donations have been replaced, and replaced again in the week since the theft was discovered.
For Russell, an 81-year-old Marine Corps veteran and retired Danvers police officer, the response has been overwhelming.
“What came to my mind was one of the Japanese admirals who said to his commanders: ‘We woke up a sleeping giant,’” said Russell, who has been collecting for Toys for Tots for about 20 years. That sleeping giant was the North Shore community that stepped up to replace the stolen donations.
“It’s just been an outpouring of generosity and love,” Russell said. “This is one of the best Christmases I have ever had. I saw love and generosity out of these people.”
Russell said someone filled up his car with toys, and people have been leaving donations and notes with checks at his door.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for these kids,” Russell said.
Yesterday, the Danvers Police Department’s report room, which was emptied of toy donations on Monday, was again overflowing. Four large trash bags filled with toys were delivered to the station yesterday, said police Lt. James Lovell.
“A lot of kids have been coming in and dropping them off,” Lovell said. “It’s been nice.”
Fire Chief Kevin Farrell said on Monday the Fire Department loaded up more than 100
55-gallon trash bags filled with toys, an outpouring Farrell has not seen in years. Firefighters collected a huge pile from Green Elephant Toys, an Elm Street shop, on Monday morning.
“When the word got out that Bert’s trailer got broken into, I think $15,000 worth of toys were purchased at the Green Elephant,” said Farrell, who said people have also been dropping off toys at a collection box at the fire station on High Street.
Even a Boston radio station, Mix 104.1, got into the act, Farrell said. The station was at the Northshore Mall in Peabody on Tuesday running a toy drive to replace the donations stolen in Danvers. Firefighters were also at Wal-Mart on Brooksby Village Drive last weekend collecting toys.
“Sometimes it takes tragedy ... to bring out the good in people,” Farrell said.
“It was truly amazing the way people came together,” said Andy Schylling, co-owner of Green Elephant Toys, which stepped up to help replace the donations by selling toys for the collection at cost. He said donations from his store were “well north of $15,000.” The Rowley toy company Schylling Inc. also made “a very large donation.”
Schylling said it may not have been the best business decision for a local toy store at Christmastime, “but it was the right thing to do.” People from as far away as New Hampshire were calling the store to thank him, and local business also contributed to the toy drive.
Schylling said the pile of toys in the store “just grew exponentially.” Those who attended the Downtown Holiday Festival and tree lighting ceremony last weekend jammed his store to make donations. Crews hauling the toy donations out of the store filled two pickup trucks and a Jeep towing a trailer, he said.
“It was full circle, the whole community came together,” he said.
As for the Grinch who stole the Christmas toys?
“Whoever did this, they didn’t ruin our Christmas,” Russell said. “We are going to work that much harder.”
The time to give to Toys for Tots in time for Christmas is growing short. The hope is to collect as many donations as possible by the end of the day tomorrow, said state police Sgt. Byron Rizos. There is a Toys for Tots collection box at the state police barracks at 485 Maple St., at the intersection of routes 1 and 62. The barracks are open round the clock.
Rizos said despite all the donations in Danvers, there is still a need for new toys for needy children throughout the state.
“When I talked with our coordinator, donations are down 26 percent statewide” from last year, Rizos said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.