North Riverside Police Officer Marisa Mangiantini displays just a couple of the hundreds of toys the department collected on behalf of Toys for Tots during a Dec. 10 drive at Costco. | PROVIDED

It had a been a couple of weeks since the North Riverside Police Department’s had launched its donations collection effort for Toys for Tots, the U.S. Marine Corps’ annual nationwide campaign to collect toys for economically disadvantaged children during the holiday season, and it wasn’t going particularly well.

While the police had placed a donation box in the department’s lobby and put out word of the collection effort, by the time Thanksgiving weekend rolled around, no members of the public had donated any toys.

So, Officer Marisa Mangiantini, who had been placed in charge of the initiative, knew she had to come up with a Plan B. She saw that another police agency had success collecting toys at a Costco location, and figured, why not reach out to the North Riverside location?

“I spoke with the regional manager, and he was all for it,” Mangiantini said.

On Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., North Riverside police rolled up and parked a squad car outside the entrance to Costco, 2500 Harlem Ave., set up a table in the vestibule and challenged incoming shoppers, aided by a celebrity guest, The Grinch, to “stuff the squad” with toys for the drive.

By 10:40 a.m., according to Mangiantini, the squad car’s cabin and trunk were jammed with toys, and they weren’t close to being done.

“As customers walked in, they saw what we were doing – we were very vocal,” Mangiantini said. “Kids loved it. Some people came out with carts full of toys.

“It was a huge success.”

And the donations didn’t stop there. In addition to the hundreds of donations received at the Costco drive, the public kept dropping off more at the police station lobby. The North Riverside Fire Department on Dec. 13 dropped off an enormous bag filled with Lego toys, and a friend of Mangiantini’s, who is a teacher in Willowbrook, had her class collect toys for the drive. On Dec. 15, Mangiantini drove to work with her car stuffed with more toys donated by the school children.

Toys for Tots left the North Riverside Police Department on Dec. 13 with a box truck full of toys and scheduled another pickup for Dec. 17 to collect the rest. The toy drive ended Dec. 14.

“We still have another 10 to 15 boxes for them,” Mangiantini said in a phone interview on Dec. 15.

This was the first year the North Riverside Police Department hosted a Toys for Tots drive. In 2017, they had organized a Shop with a Cop day, where police officers accompanied children as they walked through Costco, selecting gifts for the children’s family members.

“One of the most important things for us as police officers is to have a positive relationship with the community,” Mangiantini said. “We try any way we can to help promote a positive impact, bring joy to the holiday season and build a relationship with the community.”

Mangiantini said the department is hoping to hold another Toys for Tots drive next year as well as revive the Shop with a Cop event. The department is also looking to participate this spring in the Cop on a Rooftop initiative, held in partnership with Dunkin Donuts, which raises funds for Special Olympics Illinois.