CHICOPEE – As parents everywhere continue to recuperate from the trials and tribulations of holiday shopping, Dorothy Dooley of the Anna E. Barry Elementary school looks forward to next year’s retail combat.
Every year the school hosts “Breakfast with Santa” in early December. Besides the good cheer, the smiles from the children, and a belly full of hot food, the cafeteria becomes transformed into Toyland for the day.
From late-summer to days just before the annual event, Dooley, the school’s secretary, works the phones as she cajoles, charms, and prods local and national businesses for donations of toys or cash to the cause.
Besides her regular duties at the school, she spends hours of her free-time not only emailing or calling businesses, she can be found in the aisles of the local Wal-Mart or Target in search of bargains.
While some persons might considers a donation or two a good haul, Dooley takes in hundreds of toys, enough so that every child leaves satisfied with some of the season’s hottest items.
“I write to toy manufactures, but it’s the little guys that give us the most; it’s unbelievable. I love it” said Dooley. She said there is no hard sell involved to get a business to donate.
Dooley does not pretend to be an expert on the latest doll or skateboard or video-game. What she does know, though, is the importance of a child receiving at least one toy during the holiday season.
“It’s indescribable, their eyes, that’s what Christmas is about, kids. It’s not the adults, it’s the kids,” said Dooley. “If you talk to some of our kids earlier, Santa didn’t come or wasn’t going to come. Well, we made sure Santa was going to give them something. It makes my job worthwhile.”
Dooley said it is a matter of timing when she begins her annual calls to manufactures and donors. If she calls in early-summer, the donor might forget by fall. Instead, she sends out gentle reminders.
“I faxed everybody. I got a list of their fax numbers, they’re probably changing them now,” laughs Dooley. “You never know when to get a company. I started in the summer and they’re probably saying, ‘This is way too early. What’s this girl doing.’ But then I did a reminder, ‘It’s me again, at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ I wrote. Sure enough, I got quite a few on that second attempt.”
From early-fall up to days before the event, everyday becomes Christmas for Dooley and her colleagues, as boxes of toy donations begin to arrive at the school. Like children, they rush to open the boxes to see their latest find.
Custodian Charles Norris, who stood nearby, shook his head at the thought of the endless UPS deliveries the school will start receiving in a few months and the predicament of finding new places to store and hide the toys.
While some might argue that a winter coat or a hat is more important than a toy, Dooley said an anonymous woman comes to the school every year and donates mittens to the school.
“Then we have the senior center that knits hats and mittens, but this year they made individual bags and they colored them in. Now you should have seen the kids when they got those. All of kindergarten and first got the mittens and hats,” said Dooley.
Dooley said Breakfast with Santa has become a life lesson about service to others. The fifth-grade students act as helpers every year for the event. She said it is something the students have anticipated since they were in the lower grades.
“You ask the third and fourth graders right now, they can’t wait for that event. Because this is their grown up time that they earned through Barry School. This is their reward because they enjoy serving their parents and they assist with breakfast,” said Dooley.
Vice Principal Rachael Roy said Dooley goes above and beyond the call of duty. She said Dooley’s dedication to the children and to the event is commendable.
“She gets so excited because it’s for the kids,” said Roy. “She loves just seeing the smiles on their faces, because not everybody can have a Merry Christmas. She’s just a super woman.”
Roy, who became vice principal in the past year, said she was surprised at the size and scope of the event and the amount of donations received.
“Other chair members were saying, ‘Ok, we have enough.’ But she said, ‘We can never have enough, there’s no such thing.’ Just her passion and drive, it’s contagious. She’s literally like a big kid. That’s how excited she gets over this, it’s amazing,” said Roy.
By August, Dooley will begin again her quest for toy donations. Businesses big and small should check their fax machine, mailbox, email, or voicemail, because at the other end is Dorothy Dooley who needs their help to make the holidays special for the children of the Anna E. Barry Elementary School.
Donations may be made to the Anna E. Barry Elementary School, 44 Connell Street, Chicopee, MA 01020 or call the school at 413-594-3425.