WALLINGFORD — More than 6,000 toys were collected for the 27th annual Toys for Tots fundraiser on Thursday night.
The public was welcome to stop by Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, 40 N. Main St., to drop off unwrapped toys or monetary donations, and could stay and enjoy a cash bar, appetizers and live music.
This year the fundraiser collected 6,100 toys, exceeding the previous year’s total of 5,123. As of Wednesday, Holly Lafond, who started the fundraiser with friend Jim Fitzsimmons, estimated at least 4,000 toys had been collected through school and business drives and more would come in during Thursday night’s event.
“I always hope to beat our total from last year, but if we don’t reach our goal, it’s okay because one toy is better than no toy,” Lafond said.
Holly Lafond and Jim Fitzsimmons started the annual drive 26 years ago at a joint birthday party. Lafond and Fitzsimmons, who share a Dec. 18 birthday, asked guests to bring toys to donate to needy kids. Lafond said that first year they collected about 20 toys. In 1997, the friends partnered with the Toys for Tots Foundation, a national nonprofit charity run by the United States Marine Corps Reserves, to expand donation efforts.
“It has just become a holiday tradition,” Lafond said. “I don’t even have to tell anybody we’re doing it, they just ask me.”
The Marines will distribute the toys to children in need in New Haven County through December.
Sergeant Luis Colomba, the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots organizer, said “The Lafond Event” is something their unit looks forward to so much, they refer to it by her name.
“It’s a tradition amongst our unit here in New Haven. Everybody always expects to be at the Holly Lafond event.,” he said.
“A lot of people think it’s Toys for Tots, Marine Corps... but it’s not that. It’s a community getting together and teaming up and making sure things get done appropriately so we can serve those that need it,” Colomba said. “I was myself a Toys for Tots kid, so I remember getting a toy from a Marine… it’s awesome.”
Colomba said as of Wednesday the Marines had already reached about 1,000 needy families and Lafond and Fitzsimmon’s fundraiser contributes largely to their efforts.