“I know what it’s like to not get a toy for Christmas,” said Bob Venturini, who for the 18th year in a row has run the Toys for Tots telethon in honor of his father, Victor.
Victor passed away when Bob was seven years old, leaving behind his mother and eight siblings just a month and a half before the holiday. His older sister was 13, while his youngest brother was born six weeks after his dad’s death and they didn’t have money for a proper celebration.
“My older brother wrapped his old sneakers in newspaper and gave them to me,” he said.
But that’s not the only tragedy Bob has known, as another one of his brothers died when he was young. Additionally, Bob was burned in a fire a year before his father’s death.
Despite his heartache, he has put it all behind him and is determined that Christmas should be a happy time for every child. He requests people to help make that happen by joining him at the Carousel Food Court of the Warwick Mall at 400 Bald Hill Road on Dec. 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., where it has taken place 13 consecutive years, and bring new and unwrapped toys.
All toys will be donated to Toys for Tots, a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, which contributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them Christmas gifts.
The event will feature a visit from Santa; Paws, the polar bear mascot from the Pawtucket Red Sox; a few cartoon characters; and a clown or two.
Further, local musicians and vocalists such as Robert Black; Marissa Beatini; Dominic DiPasquale, and Ron Murray will perform. Bob said singer Billy Musto is set to sing a song that’s guaranteed to “bring tears to your eyes.”
“We’ve got some really good acts,” said Bob. There will be no shortage of bands. It’s non-stop entertainment.”
He also anticipates there will be special guests including radio personalities Dan Yorke, Matt Allen, John DePetro and Ron St. Pierre of WPRO; Mike Lyons of WEEI; as well as television newscasters Gene Valicenti and Mark Searles of NBC; Tony Petrarca of WPRI; and John DeLuca of ABC.
In addition, more than a dozen uniformed Marines will be there. For the last few weeks, they have been transporting drop off boxes to and from various local businesses.
“The outcome that we’ve gotten so far has been tremendous,” said Lance Corporal (LCPL) Celestino Rivera. “It’s my first year doing it and I’m excited because it benefits kids.”
LCPL Edward Smith agreed and said, “It’s a great feeling knowing we’re helping less fortunate people and seeing how many people are willing to donate.”
E4 Corporal Rafael Diaz feels the same.
“Growing up, I wasn’t so fortunate so it feels good to give back to the community now that I’m in a position that I can.”
Staff Sergeant Jose Avila has been participating in the event for the last five years and praised Bob for being an advocate for Toys for Tots.
“He goes around to a lot of businesses and gets them involved,” said Avila. “It feels good to be Santa.”
Bob said knowing they are helping give children gifts they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise brings joy to his heart. He is amazed by the success they’ve had through the years.
In fact, Bob and his team have collected more than 100,000 toys since he became affiliated with the organization. He credits his friends and businesses for being drop off points, such as Bolton Allstate Insurance Company; Don Rodrigues Karate Academy; Midstate Camera Repair and Hooters Restaurant, all located in Warwick; Twin Oaks Restaurant; Pizza Hut; Rico’s Hairworks in Cranston, Mozzarella’s Restaurants in North Providence and East Greenwich; plus all Chelo’s Restaurants within the state.
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien encourages citizens to stop by City Hall with toys for the cause.
That’s not all. Bob also thanked Ken Duffy of Safety 1st Baby Products for making made a contribution of “state of the art” infant and booster car seats.
“The car seats even have air bags in them,” Bob said. “They have everything but windshield wipers.”
Not only does he raise awareness for children in need through the telethon, Bob also promotes Toys for Tots on his television shows, “An Hour With Bob” and “Bob’s Big Adventures,” both of which have won New England PEG awards. He said he started “Bob’s Big Adventures” in 1992 to encourage more people to participate.
“It may sound corny but that’s how it happened,” he said.
His staff members Corey and Ryan Welch, 22 and 19, respectfully, started working for Bob when they were 15 and 13. They, too, enjoy spreading the word about Toys for Tots.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling to be part of something that makes Christmas happy for kids,” said Ryan. “It’s nice to know we’re doing something good for the community.”
Corey agreed and said, “We’re able to use our video and production talents to help and we’re more than happy to do it.”
In addition, Toys for Tots will be at more events this holiday season including one on Nov. 30 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon in Providence and another, “The 12 Bands of Christmas” on Dec. 11 at Mardi Gras, which begins at 4 p.m.
Reservist Major William L. Hendricks founded Toys for Tots in 1947 when his wife, Diane, handmade a doll and told him to donate it an organization that would give it to a child in need. When he informed her that no such agency existed, she suggested he create one. He did just that and wrangled a group of Reservists and collected and distributed 5,000 toys.
To find out how to become a drop off location, e-mail Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact SSgt. Jose L. Avila at email@example.com. For more information about Bob’s shows visit www.bobsadventures.com.