Carolyn's Toy Drive brings the spirit of Santa Claus to those in need
For those doubtful few among you, Santa Claus is real and they live in NDG.
True, it’s not the actual Saint Nick of lore. Rather, in this case, Santa takes the form of Carolyn Bouchard MacNeil, a wife and mother of three, who transforms her home into a toy drop off for thousands un underprivileged children each year.
The kids have each spent part of the year living in shelters around the city.
“Most of these kids have left all of their toys and belongings behind, so anything is appreciated, right?” said MacNeil.
Her toy drive started 16 years ago when she and her husband volunteered to help wrap gifts for disadvantaged children. Eventually, the two took over the event and has since spread the word primarily by word of mouth.
“It’s purely been through email,” she said. “I’m not even on Facebook.”
Unlike other drives, MacNeil said donors give to a specific child and are appreciative of being able to shop for a child’s age and gender.
Like the real Santa, MacNeil isn’t alone – she’s helped by a group of volunteer friends she fittingly calls her elves.
“My children are also involved,” said friend Colleen Coolen. “They chose their gifts to give to the toy drive.”
MacNeil, in her role as head elf, keeps a spreadsheet of children and donors and organizes donations, pickups and drop offs from her home, which can become crammed in all corners with gifts awaiting their child.
“Once everything comes in, it gets checked off in the system,” said MacNeil. “We make sure everything is appropriate.”
Carolyn’s Toy Drive now not only supplies toys to children in shelters, but those in group homes. In total, she works with 24 shelters and seven organizations, including some that work to welcome new arrivals to the city.
“They work with a lot of refugees coming in to Montreal, so they’re on my list,” she said.
MacNeil said she’s inspired to keep helping by her own father, who grew up in an orphanage and got his first ever bicycle at the age of 40, and her mother, who was a constant volunteer.
“I always called her the volunteer queen of DDO back then, so it’s in the blood maybe,” she said.