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Hundreds help undo thefts by Grinches

Donations pour in statewide to replenish missing Toys for Tots gifts

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By Peter Schworm and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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FRAMINGHAM — Sophia McCormick was wrapping presents for her three young children when she heard the demoralizing news. Someone had stolen hundreds of toys meant for children who might otherwise have nothing under the tree.

So early yesterday, she rushed to the dollar store and bought nearly everything in sight, filling bag after bag with gifts. So many she could not carry them all into a toy drop-off at the State Police headquarters and had to make a second trip.

When asked about her donations, and about the thieves who over the weekend stole hundreds of presents from the Toys for Tots program just days before Christmas, she could not hold back her tears.

“Every kid deserves a Christmas,’’ the Winthrop mother said. “I just hope this puts a smile on someone’s face.’’

Across the state, hundreds of people joined McCormick yesterday in donating to the Toys for Tots program, which provides tens of thousands of gifts each Christmas to needy children. They brought stuffed animals and dolls, board games and DVDs. They wrote checks for a few dollars and for a few thousand. In Framingham, a woman gave 15 iPods. In Boston, a man gave 20.

As outrage mounted over the theft of some 1,500 toys from a locked storage container outside a Burlington warehouse, an outpouring of people stepped forward to make things right.

“It’s been like the last scene of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ ’’ said David Procopio, spokesman for the State Police, which helps run the charity’s annual donation drive. “It’s just like the scene where all the people come in and give money to save George Bailey.’’

State Police, who help the US Marine Corps Reserve collect gifts for the program, extended their collections to until 6 tonight. People can bring gifts and checks to any State Police barracks.

The Marines work with community groups to distribute the toys to families that are struggling financially.

“We are going to be working around the clock to get these donations to Toys for Tots,’’ Colonel Marian McGovern, the head of the State Police, said at a morning press conference. “It’s been heartwarming to see people like Sophia. This has touched a lot of people’s hearts.’’

Tyler Hough, a Walgreens company spokesman, said the stores will collect toys until noon today and drop them off at the nearest State Police barracks. Clear Channel Outdoor Boston Division donated the use of an electronic billboard along Interstate 93 to get the word out.

McGovern called the crime despicable and said she was horrified anyone could steal presents from poor children. She said investigators would be monitoring such websites as eBay for sales of large numbers of toys and urged the public to keep an eye out for suspicious dealings.

The thieves broke into the storage facility with “a purpose in mind,’’ she said, and sifted through the piles to find more expensive, electronic gifts for older children. The gifts were worth an estimated $15,000.

They broke into the container, located outside a well-lit warehouse, between 2 and 6:30 Saturday morning. A second container was tampered with, but no gifts were taken from it.

Investigators will review surveillance video taken of the area and speak with people who may have tips of possible suspects.

Like many charities, Toys for Tots struggled this year as it faced surging demand for gifts.

But yesterday, the gifts flowed in. A Worcester man gave $10,000, and another man walked into the State House to drop off $7,500. John Danieli, a former Marine who served during the Vietnam War, wrote a personal check for $15,000, the entire value of the stolen toys.

“I decided that I would do something about it,’’ said Danieli, 67. “It was a good thing to do.’’

Marc D. Kozin and his wife, Donna, were so disturbed by the theft that they wrote a check for $5,000.

“It’s a noble cause,’’ said Kozin. “To have this happen on Dec. 20 is terrible.’’

A number of companies also made donations. Dunkin’ Donuts gave $15,000, and Whole Foods Market pledged $5,000.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people are good,’’ said Warren Griffin, junior vice commandant for the state’s Marine Corps League, adding that the rush of donations was heartening. “You just have a few fools who try to ruin everything.’’

Globe correspondent L. Finch contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com; John Ellement at ellement@globe.com.

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