By Katie Lovett
---- — ’Tis the season to buy gifts for friends and family, but several Newburyport shopkeepers and restaurant owners are hoping that, in addition to taking merchandise home as gifts, their customers will also bring some items into their businesses this year.
Retailers and restaurateurs are collecting various items from toys to hats, gloves and pajamas this season in hopes of spreading some holiday cheer to local charities.
At Valerie’s Gallery on State Street, owner Valerie Stainton was propelled to hold a hats and mittens drive for the first time after getting involved with the group, Community Giving Tree in Boxford, which distributes gently used clothing and baby equipment to families in need on the North Shore.
The campaign has been such a success, Stainton has expanded it. In addition to new and gently used hats and mittens, customers are also encouraged to donate packages of new pajamas, socks and underwear. The drive runs through Dec. 10, she said, and items of all sizes for children up to age 12 are needed. The agency will start distributing the supplies to families the following week.
“People have been really generous,” Stainton said, which is typical in Newburyport. Often, if business owners or their customers know of an opportunity to help a group or a nonprofit, they willing jump in.
Matt Khatib, owner of M.K. Winston Jewelers, echoed that sentiment this week. For the past several years, the owner of the State Street jewelry shop has collected donations for Toys for Tots, and each year, his customers flood the boxes with items of all shapes and sizes, he said.
“Anything you can think of, we’ve gotten,” he said. “I have never met a group of people as generous as the people in Newburyport.”
The first year his store ran the holiday drive, the Marines collected enough toys at Khatib’s store to help 900 families, he said. Each family receives two toys. The second year and third year, customers donated enough toys for 600 families, Khatib said.
For their fourth annual drive this year, Khatib and his wife, Karyn, are hoping to once again collect enough toys to help 900 local families have a merry Christmas morning. So, they’re offering some encouragement. When a donor drops a toy into their collection box, the Khatibs will give him or her a raffle slip to fill out. The prize is a brand-new white iPad with retina display and 32 gigabytes. The winner will be notified on Christmas Eve day.
“We really want to encourage people to bring in toys,” Khatib said. The couple said they are motivated by watching the reactions of their own two children on Christmas morning and wanting to give that same opportunity to other kids — and their parents. “We want to pass that on,” he said.
Across Market Square, John Farley Clothiers is also collecting for Toys for Tots. This is the third year the men’s clothing shop is helping the Marines. Customers also have a chance to win a two-night stay at the White Mountain Hotel and Resort in North Conway, N.H., for two people. The raffle is a way for the store to give something back to customers who are taking the time to add to their drive, manager Brett Reily said.
Employees also purchase a small amount of toys for $10 each, and have them on hand for customers who come in and wish to donate, Reily said. The customer can buy the toy from their pile and put it into the bin, while also entering the raffle, Reily said. Farley Clothiers then takes that $10 and purchases more toys. On Invitation Nights, which draws huge crowds to Newburyport, the program does well, he added.
Through the Toys for Tots program, the Marine Corps collects toys for children of all ages from infants to teenagers. While toys for younger children are often the more popular donations, gifts for pre-teens and teens are also needed. Among the suggested donations for that age group include sporting equipment, books, cosmetics, purses, bath gift sets, board games, radio controlled cars/trucks, hand-held electronics, skateboards and helmets, curling irons or hair straighteners
At Orange Leaf, the frozen yogurt shop in Market Square, a giant replica of their distinctive orange cup is set up in the shop, but this one contains clothing. The Newburyport store is joining with other Orange Leaf locations and holding a holiday season pajama drive. Donations dropped off in Newburyport will be given to the Newburyport Salvation Army.
General manager Alex Gruber said his goal is to collect more sleepwear than the other stores.
While coat, clothing and toy drives are always popular this time of year, Gruber said, Orange Leaf sought to collect pajamas as it’s often an item that’s not as readily thought of, but it’s needed just as much.
The store is taking donations through Dec. 16. For each pair of pajamas donated, a customer will receive a voucher for three ounces of free frozen yogurt.
Jim Rogers, the owner of the new Andiamo Restaurant + Bar on Winter Street in Newburyport, brought a little creativity to his quest to help the Boys and Girls Club of the Merrimack Valley. From now until Christmas, for every new “like” on the restaurant’s Facebook, Rogers will give $1 to purchase toys for the club’s holiday party.
His goal is raise enough money to buy 1,000 toys.
“Everyone should get something that day,” Rogers said. “I’m going to make sure we get to that goal.”
A longtime supporter of the Boys and Girls Club, Rogers also hopes to provide some food for the festivities, as he does for the club’s annual dinner.
Several shops also lent a helping hand earlier this season. At Greetings by Design on Winter Street, owner Deb Green ran a coat drive for the Pettengill House in Salisbury last month, and at Chase and Lunt Insurance Company, customers donated at least 150 bags of food to social services agency as well.