Jim Lafayette is always prepared for a few extra kids when the Marine Corps Reserve Dunkin Donuts Toys for Tots Train pulls into town, but even he was unprepared for what he saw on Sunday.
As families began to arrive at the Amtrak Station on Sunday morning, Lafayette realized that his projection of 160 kids was more than a touch low.
“I had expecting about a 158 kids, the same as last year, and I always plan for a few extra, but not this many,”Lafayettesaid, as he stared out at the crowd Sunday morning.
Unbeknownst toLafayette, organizers of the Toys for Tots event inHudsonFallshad sent a contingent of folks north toWhitehallafter they had missed the cutoff in their own town.
So a half hour before the train was scheduled to arrive, 158 kids had grown to 167 and over the next 30 minutes that number continued to swell until there were about 210 children and Lafayette was faced with the unenviable task of making sure everyone of those kids went home with a smile on his face.
Undeterred, but slightly rattled, Lafayette asked for help, and he received it.
Local Toys for Tots volunteers, members of the Legion and the Sons of the Legion, and folks who were there to witness the holiday glee, dipped into their pockets to save the day.
Armed with several hundred dollars in donations,Lafayettedispatched several volunteers to Family Dollar to purchase and augment the toys that were already laid out on tables in the Whitehall Fire House, and in the end there wasn’t a single child who went home empty handed.
Lafayettesaid Sunday’s turnout was the largest he has seen, by far, since he began coordinating the event locally.
More than an hour before the scheduled arrival of the train, dozens of families had already begun to gather at the train station. As11:15 a.m.approached, the parking lot was filled to capacity.
Fortunately for organizers, the train was at least 20 minutes late, giving volunteers just enough time to deal with larger than expected turnout.
As the train arrived, a number of Marines were joined by Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, a holiday rabbit and representatives from Dunkin Donuts and Canadian Pacific Rail, much to the delight of the children in attendance.
As parents enjoyed warm coffee and refreshments from Dunkin Donuts, volunteers circulated through the crowd, handing out winter jackets and chocolate chip cookies.
As popular as Santa Claus was, the Marines received the greatest applause.
Staff Sgt. James Bolen, local coordinator of the Toys for Tots campaign, said the response they have received along the tour has been phenomenal.
“The folks love it. It’s a great feeling. I’m a father of two kids myself, so being able to see them smiling, it’s a great feeling. It’s very gratifying,” Sgt. Bolen said.
Eric Stensland, upstateNew Yorkfield marketing manager for Dunkin’ Donuts expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s amazing to be a part of this. To see their smiling faces and the joy, it’s just great,” Stensland said.
After the Marines and the other passengers boarded the train, the children headed over to the Whitehall Fire House where volunteers helped children pick out toys.
Lafayette was quick to praise everyone who helped, from those who lent a hand with registration to the ninth and tenth graders from Our Lady of Hope Church who helped guide the children through the process of selecting toys, to the Legion members who did everything from directing traffic and getting the toys to the firehouse and the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company, who were up at 2 a.m. on Sunday fighting a fire on Smith Street.
“I can’t speak highly enough of all the volunteers, especially the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company. They bent over backwards to accommodate us,”Lafayettesaid.
And the award for all their hard work: “A little girl’s smile, what more could you ask for?” Lafayette told volunteers the following day.