December 16, 2005
Santa's sleigh took on the form of a University of Maine at Fort Kent eleven-passenger van recently as campus students loaded more than 1,100 toys donated by St. John Valley residents for children who might otherwise go without a gift under the tree this year.
The toys, with an estimated value of over $3,500, were transported by University students to the United Way office in Presque Isle, where they were sorted and prepared for distribution to local organizations that will see to it they get to families throughout the region before Christmas.
Participating in the St. John Valley toy drive were UMFK students representing four organizations on campus.
The service groups combined forces and volunteered their time to make the Holiday season brighter for area children by coordinating the Fort Kent collection of toys in the annual "Toys for Tots" drive and transporting donations from both Fort Kent and Madawaska drop-off locations to Presque Isle.
Involved in the community outreach program were members of the Kappa Delta Phi fraternity, Kappa Delta Phi national affiliated sorority, Student Nurses Organization, and Newman Club.
Members of the campus groups gathered the new, unwrapped, non-violent toys donated by area residents from the Fort Kent drop-off spots at Quigley's Hardware and Paradis Family Supermarket for transport to Presque Isle.
The students also delivered, to the United Way, toys donated by Madawaska area residents at collections spots at Pro Photo Gifts and Souvenirs and the Paradis Family Supermarket in that community.
The Madawaska toys were collected locally and delivered to UMFK by Don Levesque, publisher of the St. John Valley Times and his staff.
Above and beyond their work in the community, the UMFK student leaders also coordinated a unique collection effort on the UMFK campus.
The university initiative began the week before Thanksgiving, when Jason Carter, dining services manager for ARAMARK, UMFK's foodservice provider, presented the four participating clubs with a donation of $100 in the name of the University.
The students used the ARAMARK donation to purchase toys from Fort Kent area businesses. The toys were then displayed in Cyr Hall, the main classroom and administration building at UMFK, for re-sale to students, faculty, staff and community members.
"Our goal was to make it as easy as possible for people on campus to participate in the toy drive. They could either bring in a new toy that they purchased, or we had a selection of toys of various prices for purchase that when bought, went into the donation bin. We then took the money raised from our re-sale and purchased additional toys for the children," said Caro Williams, assistant director of residential life, who helped the student groups coordinate the project.
Altogether, the toy drive at UMFK garnered more than 200 toys.
"It went extremely well," said Jeremy Gurney, president of the UMFK Newman Club. "I'm glad that we did this and pleased that we collected as many toys as we did."
During the three-week toy re-sale and collection effort, members of the four participating student organizations regularly staffed a table in the entrance of Cyr Hall.
"It was an honor to be a part of this effort and to participate in such a worthwhile cause. We hope our efforts will help all area children have a Merry Christmas," said Angela Voisine, secretary of the Student Nurses Organization.
The toys donated at UMFK and at locations in Madawaska and Fort Kent were delivered to the United Way of Aroostook, where a group of volunteers divided them according to what gifts would be appropriate for children of different ages and genders.Local community groups from throughout the St. John Valley and Aroostook County then picked up the toys for distribution in their local communities.
"I was extremely surprised and pleased with the amount of toys that were delivered by the students from UMFK. Clearly they have been working very hard to help make sure that all kids in the County have a wonderful Christmas," said Claudia Stevens, United Way of Aroostook executive director. "Thanks UMFK and the St. John Valley, for a job well done!"