With some help from Poe Dameron, assorted Jedi Knights, some Stormtroopers and, of course, Darth Vader and Chewbacca, at least $8,800 was raised for the Toys Under the Tree Fund at BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont.
The Galactic Toy Drop, which is in its second year as a Star Wars-themed event, collected toys and donations on a recent Saturday at the Diamond Run Mall.
Donors got to meet members of the New England Garrison of the 501st Legion and Alderaan Base, the Rebel Legion of New England. The 501st members dress as members of the evil empire and the rebel legion members portray characters from the rebel alliance, like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo.
Members of the groups posed for photos and took part in events like a “Nerf Blaster Blast a Stormtrooper” booth at the mall. Many of the younger kids at the event seemed to enjoy playing with various self-guided models of Droids from the films.
The Galactic Toy Drop is organized by BROC and the local radio station, 101 The One. Craig Hahn, a Star Wars fan and former 101 staff member, came up with the idea of combining characters from the science-fiction film series and the charity event.
Hahn said the 2017 Galactic Toy Drop was a success, raising $8,000 and amassing many toys that were given to families by BROC.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it again and change things up.’ So we did that, even though some people were like, ‘Do you really want to do Star Wars two years in a row? Do you think it can really work?’ I was like, ‘I think it can work even better,’” Hahn said.
By around 1 p.m. on Saturday, donations had topped $8,800 and donation barrels were filled with toys, many of them Star Wars merchandise.
Katie Ormiston, squad leader of the Green Mountain Squad of the 501st, was dressed as a TIE fighter. She is in charge of the Vermont chapter of the 501st and estimated there were about 30 members of the 501st at the event.
“One of the common catch phrases is ‘Bad guys doing good.’ This is the reason why a lot of us like to keep doing what we do. We have to say, ‘This is why we do this.’ It’s great to be able to give back to our community while doing something we love,” she said.
Most of the Green Mountain squad at the mall were from Chittenden County, Ormiston said, but there were also members from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Some, like Ormiston, had been part of the 2017 event.
“We just love it when we can all come together as a big group. We don’t get to troop down in Rutland that often, so we like to make a big event of it when we can, and try to all come together a couple of times a year to do an event like this or Make-A-Wish. For a great cause, that’s usually what rallies us all together,” she added.
Members of the 501st and Alderaan Base took part in a Make-A-Wish reveal at Rutland High School in 2017.
Tom Donahue, executive director of BROC, said the money and donated toys would be used to support BROC’s Santa’s Land later this month. Family members who are identified as being in need of support will go to Santa’s Land at BROC’s site on Union Street and select toys for their children or teenagers.
Donahue said BROC’s efforts are not intended to replace or compete with a toy drive run by local radio station WSYB, which was started more than 45 years ago. He said he thought WSYB’s program and BROC’s covered the need for toys for Rutland County families.
“These folks really are deciding between groceries and fuel and toys. Toys is going to be last on that list because of the critical nature of other basic human needs,” he said.
According to Donahue, about 250 kids were served by the Toys Under the the Tree program in 2017, and he expected at least 300 recipients this year.
Music at the event was provided by students from the bands at various local schools. Colby Moore, a member of the West Rutland rock lab, said they planned to play a combination of classic rock and Christmas music.
“It’s nice to be involved in the community, and also something we love,” he said.
Since last year’s event, Hahn bought a Stormtrooper kit and joined the 501st Legion himself.
Hahn said he expected the Galactic Toy Drop to return in 2019.
“In my world of sales, the mentality, I guess, is ‘Next year, bigger and better.’ I can be really persistent sometimes, so maybe some expansion of the Star Wars universe here next year. Who knows? We’ll see... I want to keep it going. It would be a shame to have it stop,” he said.