Local Woman Pays It Forward at Westfarms Disney Store for Toys for Tots

Erica Donovan (center) won a $3,000 Disney gift card, and decided to pay it forward by donating toys from the Westfarms Disney Store. At left is her daughter Bailey Donovan and at right is her co-worker Amy Wilson. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Erica Donovan won a $3,000 Disney gift certificate, and chose to spend it at the Westfarms Disney store and donate everything to Toys for Tots.

By Ronni Newton

Erica Donovan wasn’t looking for publicity when she arrived at Westfarms on the border of West Hartford and Farmington Thursday morning for a special shopping trip.

“I’m just thinking of all the kids who will have these toys, chosen with love by us,” said Donovan, her eyes filling with tears.

She had organized the trip weeks in advance, and when two U.S. marines met her outside the Disney store shortly after noon Thursday to accept the donation to Toys for Tots, they couldn’t help but be awed by the enormous stack of bags, filled with toys, games, dress up clothes, and other items that Donovan had purchased.

Donovan, a Plainville resident who is an independent consultant for Thirty-One Gifts, had earned a $3,000 Disney gift card as a “top tier” sales associate.

“When I found out in September I talked with my husband, talked with my kids,” Donovan said, and they agreed with her idea.

She chose the Westfarms Disney store because she had always had a great experience shopping there with her two daughters, now 13 and 16.

“I wanted to pay it forward, to do as much good as I could,” Donovan said. “I could have gone to Disney World but I felt this was the right thing to do.” Her daughters have grown up being very community-minded, often volunteering with non-profits, and they were on board as well.

Donovan called the Disney store in advance, and told them what she wanted to do. They suggested she shop on Thursday, when there was a special friends and family sale. She was able to buy $3,750 of merchandise with her $3,000 of gift cards.

“They were really bending over backward with their Disney magic,” Donovan said about the entire experience.

“No one has ever done anything like this before,” said Disney store manager Kris Bellantuono. “It’s a perfet way to kick off the holiday season with someone so generous who is making magic for others,” she said.

“It’s really overwhelming to see it,” said Donovan. “I didn’t have a feel for what $3,750 of toys would look like.

Her older daughter, Bailey, a high school junior, helped shop. “We really tried to stay old school,” Donovan said. They selected lots of Toy Story merchandise and princess play sets, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy items.

Donovan’s director at Thirty-One Gifts, Amy Wilson, traveled from New Hampshire to Connecticut to help Donovan select the gifts she wanted to donate. “She decided that instead of going on a trip with her family, she would use her gift card for a donation to Toys for Tots,” Wilson said, overwhelmed with her co-worker’s generosity.

Toys for Tots coordinator, U.S. Marin Staff Sgt. Ashley Dee (right) and assistant coordinator Sgt. Timothy Dallas stand in front of a portion of the stack of gifts donated by Erica Donovan. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Donovan had contacted Toys for Tots directly. “Her story was pretty unique,” said Staff Sgt. Ashley Dee, the coordinator for the area Toys for Tots, who called her back to arrange the pick-up at Westfarms. The stack was so large that he and assistant coordinator, Sgt. Timothy Dallas, had to request some assistance to transport everything from the store.

“I’m just doing my part and am excited that giving is so contagious,” said Donovan. As she was meeting with Westfarms management and the marines outside the Disney store, another shopper dropped his own donation on top of her large pile of gifts.

Donovan’s advice to others: “Please pay it forward when you can.”

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