By Mike LaBella
---- — Although Osmond “Ozzie” Hardy retired from the Police Department early last year, he hasn’t given up on children in the community.
With Christmas fast approaching, Haverhill’s unofficial Santa is once again collecting donations for Ozzie’s Kids — an organization he founded 24 years ago to provide Christmas gifts to needy children.
Hardy is continuing the program which brings gifts each year to hundreds of children who otherwise would have nothing under the tree. And like in past years, he’s getting help. “Santa Hardy” credits the community for having sustained Ozzie’s Kids over the years through donations of gifts and money from schools, businesses, individuals, families and various organizations.
Several businesses in the city are helping Ozzie’s Kids by serving as drop-off locations for donations, including Haverhill Bank in Lafayette Square and Bradford Square, Hardy said. The police station, which long served as the program’s North Pole, is also a drop-off location. Hardy said police Chief Alan DeNaro is allowing dispatchers to direct callers to the Ozzie’s Kids Facebook page that was created last year by Hardy’s granddaughter.
Local families are helping too.
Each year for the past four years, Maureen Menzie of Haverhill and her daughter-in-law Christina Menzie have held a toy drive for Ozzie’s Kids at Bactes, a medical records company in Beverly where they work. This year, Bactes employees donated almost 500 new toys for Ozzie’s Kids, along with $400 to buy more.
Hardy was able to whittle his list down just a bit with those donations.
“I filled almost 90 bags with five gifts each this past weekend with help from the collection from the Menzie family,” he said.
Kevin Menzie of Haverhill said he and his wife, Christina, wanted to do more and are organizing a toy drive that will be held next week at Toma’s, a downtown restaurant.
“Our hope is that friends, family and others in the area will help out by bringing donations for Ozzie’s Kids,” Kevin Menzie said.
A night out for Ozzie’s Kids will be held Friday, Dec. 14, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Toma’s Restaurant, 35 Washington St. Restaurant owner Toma Sargent of Bradford is encouraging people to drop by with donations of new, unwrapped children’s toys or a monetary donation to help Hardy purchase toys.
Toma’s will offer several specials that night, including a large cheese pizza for $5 and half-price appetizers from 5 to 8 p.m.
Hardy hopes to drop in to thank people for supporting his program of giving.
If you can’t drop by Toma’s, you can drop off donations at Pizzazz Hair Salon, 100 Merrimack St. Kevin Menzie said his aunt Kathy Darby, who owns the salon, wanted to help Ozzie’s Kids by using her store as a drop-off location.
You can also call Kevin Menzie at 978-479-5361 and he will arrange to pick up your donation.
“Every year, we know there are kids out there who don’t get anything,” Kevin Menzie said.
Hardy’s list of children is long, as it usually is each year, but this time things are different.
With a sluggish economy that has many people tightening their belts, Ozzie is finding it hard to gather enough donations to ensure all the children on his list will wake up on Christmas morning to something special under their tree.
“We have almost 800 kids signed up this year and we’re so short of gifts that this is the first year I’ve had to start a waiting list,” Hardy said. “My need right now is toys. If people drop off just one gift, I’m happy. Our motto is one gift at a time and one child at a time.”
It all began years ago as a humble program of giving called “I Believe,” which evolved into Ozzie’s Kids. Last year, the program distributed more than 4,000 gifts to more than 800 children. Hardy has a list of nearly the same number of children he wants to help this year.
“My cupboards are almost bare and we’re asking people to drop off a toy at any of our drop-off locations,” Hardy said.
People can also donate to the program or read about Ozzie’s Kids on Facebook this holiday season.