BIDDEFORD — Jodie, who declined to give her last name, is the mother of three children, ages 3 through 9. She recently divorced and was also recently laid off from work. Being on her own with no job, “I’m struggling to pay my bills,” Jodie said Wednesday, and the holidays were looking rather bleak.

But thanks to Toys for Tots, a program of the U.S. Marine Corps, conducted locally by the Saco Bay Rotary Club, Jodie’s children will find some gifts under the tree when they wake up Christmas morning.

Parents or legal guardians of children who sign up for the program are allowed to take two major gifts, several smaller items and some stocking stuffers.

“This is definitely going to help,” said Jodie.

The annual Toys for Tots program provides gifts for 1,400 children in northern York County; the program in southern York County serves about the same number.

Since its inception in 1947, Toys for Tots programs have distributed more than 470 million toys to children across the country; approximately 7 million children are served each year, according to the foundation’s website.

Rotarian Doug Hooper started the local program in 1988 because of the lack of Marines in the area.

“We want to make that special Christmas for each child,” said Hooper. “It’s hard to do with 1,400 kids but we try.”

During the local toy giveaway at the Rochambeau Club in Biddeford, on Tuesday and Wednesday, it was organized chaos.

In addition to members of the Saco Bay Rotary, who head up the local program, volunteers from Thornton Academy and other local schools, Endodontic Dental and 84 staff members of IDEXX Laboratories had been helping out since the weekend.

“This is just an amazing opportunity,” said Sonya Garrepy from IDEXX. “It’s such an amazing cause. What this organization does is heartwarming and humbling. To be able to support them is incredible.”

Rotarian Leo Menard, who leads the local effort, said he was grateful for the assistance from volunteers, and added he hopes they will continue to come in future years.

But toy and financial donations were down this year.

“We’ve eaten the inventory we’ve accumulated over the last two or three years,” said Menard.

Because of that, he said, drop boxes to collect items for next year’s Tots for Tots giveaway will be out longer than usual. The boxes, located at many local banks, car dealerships and other places, will be out through Dec. 24.

For this year though, parents picking out toys at the Rochambeau Club said they were having good luck finding items for their children.

“I’m making out,” said Nikki, the mother of three children ages 2 through 14, who declined to give her last name.

Without the program, she said, “I would be borrowing money to buy gifts.”

“It’s been a rough year so far,” said Nikki, “but I think they’re going to make out pretty good thanks to Toys for Tots.”

To find a drop box location or make a financial donation, visit the website or or

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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