Don Colpitts of Lynn is a long-time donor to Item Santa. (Spenser R. Hasak)
Item Santa, Lifestyle, News

Item Santa: Profile on giving: Don Colpitts

LYNN — For many people who donate to Item Santa, the drive is an annual rite of giving that contributes to the fund that the Salvation Army uses to purchase toys and other necessities so families can enjoy the holidays unencumbered by additional debt.

But to Lynn's Don Colpitts, the charity is a way of life, and has been since it was founded 52 years ago.

Colpitts, 88, was one of the original volunteers who helped the Salvation Army distribute toys to families who had applied for aid through the fund. These days, he donates $5 per person in memory of the friends he made at the Stetson Home for Boys in Barre, where he spent five years in his youth.

"I was one of the first volunteers, and did it for 27 years," he said. "Every Christmas season I'd be down there for four or five days, even though I've been disabled since I was 18. I still look forward to going down there."

If there's an overriding reason he has made the Item Santa drive such a vital part of his life, look no further than the Stetson home.

"My father walked away in 1937," he said. "We were poor. It was a tough time. I spent five years there, and I remember the date I got there — April 21, 1940."

While he was there, he developed pneumonia and ended up in the hospital on Dec. 7, 1941 — the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

"I was 12," he said. "I still remember hearing about it."

He recalls one of the workers at the home — Mr. Robbins, who "was one of the nicest men I'd ever met.

"Mr. Robbins enlisted into the military when, after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked for people to volunteer. He went, and he was killed when the bombs hit."

Memories like that, and of the friends he made, spurred him to begin working on behalf of the drive — and spur him to keep donating today.

"I was very happy to go down there (Salvation Army)," he said. "There were so many nice people down there."

He said he could relate to the lot of the people there.

"I'd often walk through the line of people waiting outside to get their toys, and tell them about my life," he said, "how I was poor, and my father left us."

Colpitts said he devised a system of giving each applicant who made it down to the Salvation Army building on the day toys were dispersed a number so there could be an orderly flow of people inside the gym.

"Two instances stand out," he said. "One woman had tears in her eyes. She said she couldn't find what she was looking for. Her daughter wanted a pretty doll. So I helped her find one, and she give me a big hug and a kiss and thanked me. I told her that the people to thank were the volunteers and the people who donated money to make this all possible.

"I remember a guy whose wife had just died," Colpitts said. "He didn't even know if he qualified. We got him straightened out, and he walked out of there with two bags full of toys for his children.

"Those are two stories I'll never forget."

Colpitts did all this despite excruciating back pain caused by an accident he had while working in Cushman's Bakery when he was 18. He was on the verge of becoming addicted to pain pills when his doctor admonished him to manage the pain by keeping his mind active.

And, he said, that's what he did — first, building model airplanes and boats until later leading efforts to clean up the neighborhood around his Timson Street home.

As a result, Colpitts said, "I try to be as compassionate as possible. I am very proud of the 27 years I spent as a volunteer down there."

Now in its 52nd year, the Item Santa fund helps to make Christmas brighter for the needy. To donate, clip the coupon in The Item and mail it, along with your check, to The Item Salvation Army Santa, P.O. Box 5, Lynn, MA 01903. You can visit itemsanta.org to make a donation online.

All donations are listed in Item print editions through the month of December and into 2019, along with a brief message from each donor, if desired.

Those interested in signing up to collect at Santa Island or any business willing to sell stockings should contact David Solimine Sr. or Joel Solimine at 781-595-1492.

NOTE: The application period for aid from Item Santa has closed and The Item does not process applicants. All questions about the program and distribution of gifts should be directed to Salvation Army at 781-598-0673.

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