Santa’s helpers call for toys

Toys for Kids Vermont donates to those in need

By Lillian Kolbenson
For The Essex Reporter

You can find red barrels brimming with new toys at many locations around town; in fact, they’re all over Vermont. This is the effort of Toys for Kids Vermont, a non-profit established by John Welsh in 1999. The program is a spin off of Toys for Tots, established in 1921. Toys for Kids Vermont is run by the Marine Corps League of Vermont and its five detachments based in St. Albans, Rutland, Brattleboro, Montpelier and Burlington. All donations to Toys for Kids Vermont are kept local.

Colchester’s own Herb Drew Jr. joined the Marine Corps League in Vermont in 2009, and is in his fifth year of helping run this toy-drive. Drew is third in command as junior vice commander of the Marine Corps League in Burlington’s Donald G. Cook Detachment.

Drew formerly served for the Marine Corps Reserve in mine warfare and demolition. He was activated for several tours over seas including to Okinawa, the Philippines, Formosa (now known as Taiwan) Bosnia and more. “I missed the end of Korea and the beginning of Vietnam… I was in charge of setting and clearing bombs,” Drew said in an interview last Thursday.

When he returned, he married his wife and continued with his job at General Electric. Over his 39 years working with GE, Drew said he pretty much held every job from quality control engineer to group leader of inspections.

“I was known as Yoda,” Drew explained, adding it was because he could remember detailed information co-workers needed for parts and processes. “I had the knowledge.”

After retiring at age 55, Drew now dedicates a good part of his year to helping Toys for Kids. The local non-profit is made up of volunteers that collect toys and money, which are then distributed by the Salvation Army, and Light Ministries and St. Joseph’s churches.

Drew said that in the Burlington area alone there are between 800-900 families in need this year.

Coordinators like Welch, Joe Gills, Ginny Gills and Kevin Holly, among others, begin planning the year’s collection in early July by contacting truck donators. Once it gets closer to December, Drew and other volunteers distribute 300-400 red barrels – donated by Ben and Jerry’s – to local businesses and community members who are willing to collect toys. Until Dec. 22, the last day the barrels are out, volunteers continue to collect the toys and donate them to the Salvation Army and churches that organize the toys based on gender and age groups.

“(The Donald Cook Detachment is made up of) about 45 members, but only 18 active ones,” lamented Drew, adding that many members are in their 80s. “Our minds want to do the work, but our bodies won’t let us.”

The group is seeking younger volunteers willing to do some of the heavy lifting. Volunteers work until the last few days before Christmas distributing gifts to the many families in need.

“Now’s the time to go get a toy… find a barrel, drop them in and we will do the rest,” said Drew. All new and unwrapped toys are welcome. Monetary donations are also welcome. Checks may be sent to Toys for Kids, P.O. Box 4092, Burlington, VT, 05406.


Contact Herb Drew Jr. at 863-3536. For more information visit


Toys for Kids

Red Toy Barrels in the Essex area

Peoples United Bank, 2 Susie Wilson Rd

Gadue’s Dry Cleaners, 30 Susie Wilson Rd

Raquets Edge, 4 Gauthier Dr

Harley Davidson Motorcycle, 157 Pearl St

Dino’s Pizza, 99 Pearl St

VFW post 6689, 73 Pearl St

New England Federal Credit Union, 74 Pearl St

Big Lots Store, 70 Pearl St

AJ’s Kitchen, 10 Railroad Ave

Murray’s Tavern, 4 Lincoln Place, Essex Grill, 35 Main St

Champlain OBGYN, 55 Main St

Essex High School, 2 Educational Dr

UPS Store #3327, 4 Carmichael St

Hannaford supermarket, 21A Essex Way

Ace Hardware, 15 Essex Way

Essex Outlet Cinemas, 21 Essex Way

Edward Jones Financial, 8 Essex Way

Sewiing Corner, Rt 15 Jericho

Merchants Bank, 205 Rt 15 Jericho

Ferrel Chiropractic, 213 Rt 15 Jericho

Jerihill Hardware, 249 Rt 15 Jericho

Mountain High Pizza, 249 Rt 15 Jericho

Underhill center School, 6 Irish Settlement Rd

Colchester resident Herb Drew Jr., of the Marine Corps League of Vermont, holds a toy truck in front of the Williston Center Fire Department truck on Sunday.  PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Colchester resident Herb Drew Jr., of the Marine Corps League of Vermont, holds a toy truck in front of the Williston Center Fire Department truck on Sunday.

Red Mini-Coin Barrel

Dunkin Donuts, 120 Pearl St

Bagel Market, 30 Susie Wilson Rd

Essex Colonial Mart, 50 Susie Wilson Rd

Gary’s Barber Shop, 89 Pearl St

JP’s Rest & Deli, 39 River Rd

Ray’s Barber Shop, Railroad Ave

River Road Discount Beverage, 45 River Rd

Essex Discount Beverage, 76 Center Rd

Hoagies’ Pizza/Pasta, 112 Center Rd

Ray’s Seafood Market, 7 Pinecrest Rd

Rocky’s Pizza, 39 Park St

Transitions Physical Therapy, 74 Rt 15

Jericho Café/Tavern, 30 Rt 15

Chittenden Mills Gas Station, 39 Rt 15

Mountain High Pizza, 249 Rt 15 Jericho

Check donations may be sent to Toys for Kids, P.O. Box 4092 Burlington, VT 05406