by Terry Rogers
For 15 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. Four 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.
“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 and we held a blessing of the restaurant party. Take My Hand Ministries paid for the food for the event.”
Last year, the Johnson’s realized that, due to the pandemic, they would not be able to do a brunch as people were still not comfortable coming out to eat. After discussing the problem with their chef and Chief Kenneth Brown of the Milford Police Department, they decided to offer a $25 gift card to the restaurant for anyone who drops off a wrapped and tagged gift worth $25. They would also accept a Walmart gift card for $25 or more.
“The gift cards worked out very well last year, “Mrs. Johnson said. “People could use them for themselves or give them as gifts. We decided to continue that this year. People are still afraid of buffets due to COVID, so we felt like continuing the gift cards this year was the best way to do it.”
Take My Hand Ministries pays for half the gift cards and Benvenuto Restaurant donates the other half.” Over the years, people have donated bicycles, hoverboards, scooters, and other really nice gifts. Because many of the donated gifts are for younger children, the gift cards are used to take parents shopping for children who are 12 and older.
Gifts can be delivered to the restaurant from 11 AM to 9 PM on Friday, December 3 or from 12 Noon to 9 PM on Saturday December 4. Once the gifts have been collected, they will be turned over to Milford Police Department for distribution.
“The aim of the project is to give gifts to those who may not be able to get them from other sources,” Ms. Johnson said. “We want to help those who may not be able to afford gifts for their children who may not get help from other toy donation services.”
Anyone with questions can call Benvenuto at 302-265-2652.
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