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Massachusetts National Guard and Second Chance Toys

Homeless children around the area will be receiving used toys thanks to a joint effort by the Massachusetts National Guard in Milford and the Worcester County House of Correction.


Over the past month, soldiers, airmen, prison guards, and employees of the two facilities collected 82 toys for children in need.


They gave the toys to a New Jersey-based organization called Second Chance Toys, which gives them to various organizations.

Second Chance Toys then handed the toys over to Horizons for Homeless Children, which will distribute them to local area homeless shelters.


Horizons for Homeless Children began in 1988 to help homeless families educate and care for their children.


On Monday, all 82 toys were lined up on display as representatives from the correctional facility, the National Guard, and Horizons for Homeless Children celebrated the effort.


National Guard Brigadier General Gary W. Keefe said, "It’s going back to the Milford area." "It gives us a chance to show that we get involved with organizations such as Second Chance," he said.


Luis S. Spencer, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Correction, said, "We all have kids. We have a wide variety of folks who work in the organization. Whenever we can give back to people that wouldn’t normally have that opportunity, we find it in our hearts to do so."


This was the second toy drive by the local National Guard. The last one was in April when the guard collected 60 toys.


"This time we had the Department of Correction," said Del Cournoyer, administrative assistant for the National Guard in Milford. Cournoyer, who has worked at the National Guard in Milford for 30 years, began the initiative after his daughter Jennifer Cournoyer, who is the operations manager at Second Chance, approached him with the idea last March.


He said his daughter often witnesses children receive the used toys that the organization collects, an experience she shares with him through pictures. "The look on those kids faces is absolutely amazing," he said. "One toy will mean a lot to you when you have nothing."


After getting the OK from National Guard command later that month, he started putting up fliers around the building and sent emails to the entire staff informing them of the initiative. Soldiers and workers responded enthusiastically, collecting the 60 toys in a month.


After an outpouring of support and a willingness to participate by the Department of Correction, the National Guard decided to put on the latest toy drive. Now, a third drive is set to take place in November.


"We are absolutely delighted to collaborate with the National Guard and the Massachusetts Correction," said Amy Whitehead-Pleaux, Playspace Programs regional director at Horizons for Homeless Children. She said the toys will likely go to children at the Medway Family Shelter and another undisclosed area shelter. "It is wonderful! We are thankful for their generosity and care," she said.


Keefe said the program shows that the National Guard does not just serve the community by helping people recover from hurricanes and tornadoes.


Derek McLean can be reached at 508-634-7582 or