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Waterford - On an unseasonably warm Sunday, more like late spring than early December, holiday classics wafted from two speakers set atop the hood of a red fire department car in the Toys R Us parking lot.
By midday, the New London fire and police department's fourth annual joint toy drive to benefit the New London Neighborhood Alliance's Adopt A Family program was well under way.
"We've had a good turnout," said firefighter Joe Nott, who estimated that about 100 good Samaritans had contributed so far to the still-growing pile on the curb. "It's going well."
The toy drive was held for the second year in a row at Toys R Us with part two slated for next Saturday's Celebration of Lights and Song in downtown New London. After that, the collection will be handed over to the Adopt A Family program, which distributes gifts to families in need during the holiday season.
"We're just doing our part to help out the community and kids in New London," Nott said.
A short time later a car pulled up, and Mike Mariano of Waterford - who works as a 911 dispatcher in New London - stepped out with two industrial-size black trash bags filled with stocking stuffers in hand.
"Oh, look at this guy," Nott said. "Holy mackerel."
"I do this every year," said Mariano, who purchased the gifts with his wife, Susan. Four other equally impressive bags went to two other local charity events.
The visitors were frequent, typically dropping off several items. A little boy in a camouflage sweatshirt toddled over at his parents' encouragement, offering up a Mr. Potato Head toy and receiving a red candy cane for his trouble. Others paused as they exited the store, studied the toy drive's signs, and plucked a purchase from their brown plastic bags to offer.
The stacks of dolls, baseball mitts, Nerf guns and Transformers were the purview of Nott's daughter, Madison, 10, and her cousin, Jessica San Juan, also 10. They were on toy-drive elf duty, clad in matching fleeces and Santa hats - Madison's with antlers, Jessica's with sequins. They called out inventory as they place donations artfully among the loot, and handed out candy canes to the generous.
At the end of the day, they planned to use the cash donations to buy whatever their final haul was lacking.
Madison stood back and examined.
"Dad, we don't have, like, any footballs!" she said. "We had like, twenty last year."
Police officer Justin Clacherie reassured her.
"It's still early," he said.
While the teddy bears and Army figurines were plentiful, Clacherie said they're most in need of gifts for older kids.
"We have less teenager stuff," he said.
Laura Mathewson and daughter Cailee, 13, of Pawcatuck heeded their call, dropping off bracelet-making and scrapbooking kits. Mathewson said Cailee was well prepared to make the selections.
"She was like, I do this with my friends!" she said, adding, "We feel that it's important to help those in need, especially at this time of year."
Mathewson started to walk away with her daughter, then paused and walked back up to the volunteers.
"Thank you guys so much for all that you do," she said. "God bless you all. Merry Christmas."