Methuen High School students Juliana Czsmadia, left, and Eunice Njoroge prepare for the upcoming Debbie’s Treasure Chest holiday toy drive by wrapping distribution boxes.

METHUEN — This holiday season, Linda Harvey and her band of elves from Debbie’s Treasure Chest have been hard at work preparing to enter their 14th year of spreading cheer to Merrimack Valley residents — starting with a coat drive called “Let’s Get Warm.”

Methuen resident Harvey, who started the nonprofit in 2007 with her daughters, Maxine and Talia Harvey, and their friend Anna McCabe, the daughter of Haverhill District Court Judge Mary McCabe, continue their annual goodwill gesture in memory of close friend Debbie D’Iorio. Methuen resident D’Iorio, a tireless advocate for children, died in 2006.

The organization — started in D’Iorio’s memory — began as a holiday toy drive and quickly morphed into a nonprofit focused on year-round giving, Harvey said.

“Debbie was a premiere social worker and a great child advocate,” Harvey said of her close friend. “I would have family Hanukkah parties and my kids — who had more toys than they knew what to do with — would ask guests to bring a toy for DCF, and that’s how it all started. They’d get a massive amount of toys. We’d call Debbie and say, ‘We’ve got five boxes of toys,’ and she’d make sure they got to the right kids. Or, she’d call us and say, ‘I need a bicycle.’”

Following D’Iorio’s death, her friends chose to remember her by formalizing the Harvey girls’ holiday toy drive into Debbie’s Treasure Chest. Then, they got the community involved by asking police officers, social workers, teachers and others to refer children and families to the group so the toys, coats and other items being collected could go to good use.

Debbie’s Treasure Chest has expanded its reach to include a leadership group for middle and high schoolers called the Susan Paul Sirkman Leadership Program. One of those students, Methuen High School junior Samantha Kendall, has taken charge of this year’s toy drive for Debbie’s Treasure Chest, Harvey said.

Toy distribution boxes will soon go up throughout Methuen, with distribution points for new, unwrapped toys including the Methuen Police Department, Methuen High and City Hall. During an invitation-only event on Dec. 18, toys will be distributed to children in need, Harvey said.

“Last year during COVID, we collected 3,500 toys, so this year we’re hoping for the best season ever,” Harvey said.

New and gently worn winter wear and new socks are being collected to be distributed at the Debbie’s Treasure Chest “Let’s Get Warm” event being held on Nov. 21. Residents may drop off coats at City Hall, 41 Pleasant St.; the Methuen Police Department, 90 Hampshire St.; and the State Police barracks in Andover on 31 Gould Road. Residents with questions on the coat or toy drives are able to email Lauren at lcarrolldtc@gmail.com.

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