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Mikey Roucoulet, 5, of Rutland, gives “Santa Bob” a hug at the Open Door Mission while Jim Baldwin, upper left, of General Electric, hands out toys to GE volunteers and Rutland City Police officers to load into a trailer for the Toys for Tots program on Thursday afternoon.

Santa arrived just as his sleigh was being loaded.

The sleigh wasn’t at the North Pole last Thursday afternoon, though, but at General Electric. And while it was actually a sleigh silhouette mounted on a truck — and it was actually Bob Haynes in the Santa suit — the sleigh was really being loaded with toys. GE employees were loading their haul from this year’s Toys for Tots drive up for shipment to the Open Door Mission.

GE collected almost 2,000 toys for the program last year, and by late afternoon it looked as if they were at least in the same neighborhood Thursday.

“We wanted to outdo ourselves this year,” said GE employee Stephan Torres. “We’ve still got people ransacking Walmart and such. … A lot of families are going through some tough times. It’s nice to have a chance to give back.”

Bobby Linder, the sponsor for the Rutland chapter of GE’s veterans network, said the facility has participated in Toys for Tots for years, but participation really took off last year. This year, he said they have 10 groups in competition organized around different departments within the factory.

“The guy who runs maintenance and I always like to battle each other,” Linder said. “They’re all trying to one-up and outdo each other, which makes it more fun.”

Linder said GE’s work as a defense contractor and high proportion of veterans in the workforce make Toys for Tots an obvious partner for the company. He said the veterans tended to have been involved with the group during their service.

“My 28 years I was in the military, we did Toys for Tots every year,” he said. “It’s a natural fit.”

Sharon Russell, executive director of the mission, said the toys are distributed from there through area schools.

“All of the schools in Rutland County have been notified,” she said. “They’re going to be coming tomorrow to pick the toys up. The nicest part of this is, I don’t get anyone’s name. We don’t know where they’re going. We don’t need to know.”

Daniel Duffy, the Toys for Tots coordinator for Central Vermont and Rutland County, said that much like the need for food pantries and fuel assistance, the need for help at the holidays had jumped in recent years.

“The state had between 5,000 and 6,000 kids get help from Toys for Tots last year,” he said. “I believe that number this year … we’re looking at around 7,500.”

An annual Christmas Party at The Foundry in Killington gathered 400 more toys, and with other donors, Russell said the total is expected to be about 3,000.

“Close your eyes and think about Christmas morning, and that little child waking up with nothing under the tree and a mom standing there with tears in her eyes,” she said. “These people are going to make a difference. ... I do this for a living, and I love what I do. To know other people are this compassionate … that’s what it’s all about. It’s a good feeling.”

gordon.dritschilo @rutlandherald.com

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