So. Shore donor’s gift bags lift spirits at Everett school

Kate Manning and Julie Ritchie getting ready to transport the gift bags at the Toy Box of Hanover.

A small family-owned toy store on the South Shore stepped up this month to provide end-of-year gift bags for all 237 students at the Edward Everett Elementary School in Dorchester.

The project began when Julie Ritchie of Toy Box of Hanover began working with third-grade teacher Katie Manning to organize gifts for her classroom.

“I thought, ‘What if we just did the whole school?” said Ritchie, who owns  the toy store that her mother founded 46 years ago.

“We do community outreach all the time, but this was probably one of my most fun donations,” she said. “Within 10 days, we were able to put it together. There was an outpouring of customers and vendors excited to donate. It was amazing to be able to do something for the kids who have had such a tough school year, and send them off for summer in a fun way.”  

Karen Cahill, the Everett school’s principal, said the personalized donations were extremely thoughtful. “When Covid-19 broke out, the kids were stuck at home without any socialization and Julie called me and offered to donate gift bags to every student,” said Cahill. “Each bag was personalized and came with an academic game for the kids to play with their families and social emotional toys, and there were things for kids with special needs.

“They really took the time and thought about it. It was just wonderful and extremely thoughtful.” 

Once the donations were dropped off at the school, parents were invited to pick up the gift bags in person or in a drive-by curbside pickup in front of the Pleasant Street schoolhouse on June 16 and 17. Teachers and staff organized drop-offs for the families unable to participate in the pickup, ensuring that every student received a gift. 

“The teachers and myself were so thrilled and so thankful, and the great thing is that they want to do it every year,” said Cahill. 

“As an inclusion teacher, this donation was so amazing and generous,” said Katie Manning. “We can’t thank the Toy Box of Hanover enough for what they’ve done. During the quarantine, teachers did home visits to students throughout Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Southie.”

In addition to the kindness displayed by Toy Box of Hanover, Manning noted that local business owners Kevin and Kristen Brown of Brown Innovations also donated mask shields to Edward Everett staff to use while cleaning out their classrooms in the last week of school. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a Boston-based publishing company, also donated more than 100 summer reading books to students.