Photo Gallery | Sen. Ben Downing's Toys for Tots Holiday Open House
PITTSFIELD — Family, friends and supporters of Benjamin Downing gathered in the state senator's North Street office late Tuesday afternoon, for light refreshments, good conversation and a chance to bring joy to less fortunate children this holiday season.
For the fifth year running, Downing held a open house to kick off his involvement with the "Toys for Tots" campaign: the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves annual nationwide holiday charity.
Until Dec. 11, Berkshire residents are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to the senator's office, where it will be collected by Marines from Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and distributed within Western Massachusetts.
Downing's office is located at 7 North St., Suite 307, and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. No appointment is necessary.
"I hope that families and children across Western Mass will have a happy, merry and bright Christmas morning thanks to the generosity of others and the donations we can help collect," Downing said.
Three Marines from Westover, led by Sgt. Matthew Jacobs, were on hand to receive the gifts and place them in the official Toys for Tots bins.
"This is a great opportunity to be part of the community, interact with the people and show our softer side," Jacobs said.
Longtime Downing supporter Lorraine Robinson, of Adams, stopped by with a couple of toys tied to the Disney movie "Frozen" and lauded Downing and the Marines for being a big help within the community.
"[Ben] is always doing something, and it's so nice to support the military," she said.
Toys for Tots was founded in 1947 by reservist Major Bill Hendricks of Los Angeles, becoming an official activity of the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve in 1995. Since its debut nearly 70 years ago, the program has distributed almost 500 million toys to more than 230 million children across America.
The three-hour get-together was part holiday party, part art show, as 226 drawings from Grade 3 through Grade 8 students throughout the county adorned the office walls, entries in the senator's second annual Holiday Greeting Card Design Contest.
Thirteen-year-old Hannah Chrzanowski, an eighth grader at St. Agnes Academy in Dalton, won top honors, and her design will be the cover art for Downing's holiday greeting card this year.
Combining the art contest with Toys for Tots has quickly become a holiday tradition in downtown Pittsfield.
"It's fun to do the two things together," Downing said.