Meet Mary Smith – or, as her coworkers call her, “Mrs. Claus.”
The longtime employee at Bay Alarm in Concord has been spearheading the company’s annual Toys for Tots donation drive for the last 29 years, earning her the rather festive moniker.
This year, she raised more than $13,000 to buy toys for the program, which the U.S. Marine Corps hosts annually. Bay Alarm’s owners, the Westphal family, then matched her dollar for dollar, bringing the total amount raised to just over $27,000.
“We started out with just $200 or $300 the first year, and it’s really morphed into something wonderful," Smith said.
Smith purchased each present herself, spending “hours and hours, days and days” picking out the perfect gifts. All told, the company stockpiled so many donations that it took five marines and two trucks to haul away the 48 boxes of Christmas goods and 90 children’s bikes on Monday morning.
“The joy I get out of it is, knowing that before I start my holiday season with my family — I have four kids and six grandkids — I get to know and rest that I gave Christmas to approximately 4,000 children this year,” Smith said.
One of the Marines described being shocked when he realized how many donations their toy drive would receive this year.
“It was amazing,” said Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Andre Jacobs. “We were actually blown away by how many toys and bikes and boxes she had.”
Smith doesn’t like to take too much credit for the donation drive, although her employees readily shower her with praise for her efforts. She says she couldn’t do it without her colleagues, who participate in company raffles and buy the $7 lunches she sells all year round to raise the money.
Smith says that when she was a child, her family couldn’t always afford much during the Holidays. This is her way of making sure that every child has something nice to open each year.
“I didn’t have anything or much when I was a little girl, and I thought if I was ever in a position to give back, this is how I would give back," Smith said, tearing up a bit. "And I love doing it. It’s absolutely my passion."
Gillian Edevane covers Contra Costa County for NBC Bay Area. Contact her at Gillian.Edevane@NBCuni.com.