Armed with a screwdriver, a microscope and a small welder, “Guido Aggiustagiocattoli”, a.k.a Guido the Toy Fixer, has mended between 50 and 70 toys a day these past two months, in preparation for the festive season.
“The best present for me is when these children who have been through so much smile at me,” said Pacelli, a 68-year-old retired aviation technician from Italy's flagship airline Alitalia.
Once up and running, the repaired toys are meticulously disinfected, carefully wrapped and labelled for the families. Salvamamme (Save Mothers), which hosts Pacelli's workshop in premises lent by the Italian Red Cross, then distribute the gifts to poor, migrant or sick children.
Pacelli remembers a Caterpillar tractor he repaired for a little boy. “He called me every day until I managed to repair it,” said Pacelli, a volunteer for the charity since an early retirement in 2011.
Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP
“People leave batteries in and they oxidate,” he said, as he changes those of a green plastic electric guitar, extracted from a pile of soft toys, mini computers and wind-chimes for children.
Nicknamed Geppetto — the creator of Pinocchio in Carlo Collodi's novel — because of his blue overalls and glasses, Pacelli plays an essential role in the charity.
“This toy was even sent by the manufacturer because it was faulty. I've mended it and now it will go to a child in a hospital,” said Pacelli.
20,000 toys a year
“We distribute more than 20,000 toys a year,” said Maria Grazia Passeri, head of Salvamamme which also hands out food, nappies and clothes to families with very little means.
The products come from official organisations, hospitals or local parishes. Passeri, wrapped in a red shawl, said that she founded the charity 20 years ago to help “all these women who give birth in secret or go through horrible experiences”.
On distribution day at Salvamamme, mothers fill out forms and children amuse themselves amongst the piles of parcels ready to be sent and play with toys awaiting Pacelli's intervention, stacked in heaving piles.
Many former beneficiaries who manage to lift themselves out of poverty become volunteers at Salvamamme. Jonathan, a 29-year-old Argentinian, arrived in Italy 12 years ago without work or a family to start a new life. “I am very grateful, I will never forget the help I received.
All my free time I give it to the association,” he said. Anna Moticala has a family of five to feed, three of whom are children. She arrived from Moldova to Rome eight years ago and is unemployed. She is also grateful for the charity.
“I asked for a little help and they helped me enormously,” she said, above the sound of children's laughter as they play and gobble down a slice of Pandoro, a typical Italian Christmas dessert.