Not every child or teen is fortunate enough to get gifts for the holidays. That’s why men like Bob Venturini of Pawtucket and Edward Brady of Cranston organize events to collect new and unwrapped toys for kids in need.
Venturini, the host of local public access TV shows “An Hour with Bob” and “Bob’s Big Adventure’s,” will be emceeing the 19th Victor J. Venturini Memorial Toys for Tots Telethon in conjunction with the United States Marine Corps at Warwick Mall Dec. 11 from 5 to 9 p.m., while Brady, co-owner and co-founder of 4zero1 Entertainment Group, has helped organize the second annual “Toys for Teens” gift drive to benefit St. Mary Orphanage in North Providence.
According to Venturini, he and the Marines have collected and distributed more than 100,000 toys.
“They tell me it’s the biggest event,” Venturini said of the Marines. “They say, ‘I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Venturini named the event in honor of his late father,as well as his deceased brother, Victor J. Venturini Jr. Both served in the military, as his father was in the Navy and served in World War II, while his brother was a Marine and served in Vietnam. Further, he started the telethon because he knows what it’s like to be a child who goes without, as his father died when he was seven, leaving behind his mother and eight siblings.
“My brother was the oldest boy in the family, and he tried to give me something for Christmas,” said Venturini. “He didn’t have any money, so he gave me his old sneakers. They didn’t fit, they were too big.”
But that didn’t dampen his holiday spirit. The thoughtfulness of his brother touched his heart, and as an adult he enjoys sharing that feeling with children through the organization, which was founded in 1947 by Reservist Major William L. Hendricks.
“It makes me feel very good because it helps a lot of people,” Venturini said.
The event has been a telethon in the past, but will be more of a radiothon this year. Local stations WEEI 93.7 F.M., WHJJ 920 A.M. and others are helping to promote it to encourage people to donate. Venturini is looking for more radio stations to morph it into a full-fledged radiothon. It will also be taped, with segments to air on Venturini’s shows on Cox Cable channels 13 and 18. Portions will also be available to view online at email@example.com.
“We still use the name ‘telethon’ because that’s the way it’s been for so many years,” he said. Also, Venturini’s camera crew, Corey and Ryan Welch, will be filming the event.
The event will feature local entertainers, from magician Matt Roberts, singer-songwriter Keturah Burgess of the Vinyl Grooves, singer-songwriter Mark Cutler, 10-year-old guitarist Nolan Liete andRobert Black of the Robert Black Band. The singers that perform have appeared on “An Hour with Bob.” Venturini said he’s grateful to Black, who in addition to performing is the musical director of the event.
“I give him the names of people who have been on my shows and he organizes it,” he said.
He’s also thankful to Sgt. Mike Cremin for his assistance, as well as loyal contributors. Among the biggest donors are Safety First, Chelo’s Restaurant, Mozzarella’s Restaurant and Navigant Credit Union in Smithfield.
With his own funds, Venturini has plaques made for the people or organizations that make large donations. The Marines take the toys and monetary and check donations to the people in need.
As for Brady, co-owner of Vanity, a restaurant at 566 Main Street in Providence, Brady and his staff have collected more than 30 toys so far. There are about 40 kids on a list the orphanage provided to them, with items like Legos, toy trucks, bracelets, makeup sets and more.
People can make gift donations appropriate for boys ranging in age from eight to 13 and girls from 10 to 17 and drop them off at Vanity. Brady and his team will be collecting gifts until Dec. 10 and delivering the items to the orphanage a few days later.
“Anything that isn’t gifted by the community we pledge to get ourselves,” Brady said.
Brady decided to help St. Mary’s because one of his close friends was orphaned. After he learned more about his friend’s past, he looked into setting up the event.
“It opened my eyes to how fortunate I am,” said Brady. “We want to give back to the local orphanage so they have a better Christmas. It’s meaningful and close to home.”
Brady also cited late restaurant entrepreneur Steve Marra and his parents for inspiring him to assist others in need. Marra was well known for helping multiple local organizations.
“He was a very big influence in my life, and I’ve had a lot of great mentors and teachers in my life, including my parents,” Brady said.
Vanity also hosts an annual homeless dinner. This year marks the fourth year they will serve food to people in need. It will take place Dec. 23 at 330 Park Avenue in Cranston, which is the former location of Praise Tabernacle Church.
“We’ll feed about 200 people,” he said. “We try to do it year-round and not just during the holidays. Every time we do it we want to do more. We’re still looking for volunteers or anyone who wants to donate food.”