by Terry Rogers
For 14 years, Poncho and Lisa Johnson, owners of Benvenuto Restaurant, have held a toy drive in partnership with Milford Police Department. The event began when their son, Colby, was only five years old.
“We had people bring a wrapped gift to our house,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We would then take wagon rides, escorted by the police, to the police station to deliver the gifts. Everyone would come back here where people had donated pizza for everyone to enjoy. It grew so big, we ended up getting school buses to carry people to the police station. We had more than 100 people here. Santa would show up, we would have hot chocolate and roast marshmallows.”
Mrs. Johnson explained that, over the years, Colby and his friends outgrew the wagon rides. The Johnsons began to realize they were getting just as many gifts, but fewer people were showing up for the wagon rides. Three years ago, they decided to hold a brunch at their home in conjunction with the toy drive and turned over the management of the drive to Take My Hand Ministries.
“Last year, even before we were open, we held the brunch at the restaurant,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We didn’t even have booths installed yet. The Bridge radio station set up tables for us as the night before we held a blessing of the restaurant party. Take My Hand Ministries paid for the food for the event. Saturday, I woke up and realized that we would not be able to do the brunch this year due to the pandemic. People are still not comfortable coming out to eat and we were worried we would not have enough people. Because we don’t serve breakfast normally, we were concerned about leftover food.”
The Johnsons, their chef and Chief of Police Kenneth Brown discussed options for the toy drive. Chief Brown was also hesitant to hold the brunch, thinking that if a large number of people did attend, it would appear as if the City and the restaurant were condoning gatherings of large crowds.
This year, instead of holding the brunch, Benvenuto offered a $25 gift card to the restaurant for anyone who dropped off a wrapped gift worth $25 or a Walmart gift card of $25 or more on Friday, December 4 and Saturday, December 5. The restaurant gift card can be given as a Christmas gift or can be used later by the person who donates the toy.
“Take My Hand Ministries is paying for half the gift cards and Benvenuto Restaurant is donating the other half,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We have had people donate bicycles, hoverboards, scooters, lots of really nice gifts. We get a lot of gifts for younger children and the gift cards are used to take parents shopping for children who are 12 and older.”
All gifts were turned over to Milford Police Department for distribution.