Toys for totsBy Deborah Block – STAFFORD, VIRGINIA—For nearly 70 years, a U.S. Marines-sponsored program has made Christmas brighter for underprivileged children across the United States by giving them new toys. Every year, millions of these children will receive a toy from the “Toys for Tots” program. For some, it is the only toy they’ll get for Christmas.

Several weeks before the holiday season, large cardboard boxes are placed in businesses, like grocery stories and car dealerships, for the public to donate new, unwrapped toys.

In Dumfries, Virginia, about an hour’s drive from Washington, the toys are brought to a large warehouse. They are sorted by Marines and other volunteers, including college student Sarah Duncan, who said “Toys for Tots” means a lot to her because it has helped her cousin with five children living in South Carolina.

“She can’t afford Christmas presents, and ‘Toys for Tots’ makes those children have a great Christmas,” she said.

Warehouse coordinator U.S. Marine Andrew Eichelberger said 62,000 toys are being handed out in his district in northern Virginia this year.

Most of the toys at the warehouse are picked up by churches, service organizations and other groups for distribution in their communities. But some are hand delivered by Marines.

At the Stafford County Head Start school in Stafford, Virginia, four- and five-year-olds in an early childhood education program for low income families were each getting a holiday gift. Autumn, 5, was led to an assortment of toys scattered on tables by U.S. Marine Tee Hanible. Autumn excitedly selected a toy pony and showed it to her mom, Allena Hoe.

“It just makes her very happy and that means everything to me,” Hoe said emotionally.

Ethan showed off his new airplane. His mother Sheila Gonzalez was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“They just gave me a toy for Ethan,” she said with tears in her eyes.  “It’s helping a lot for us.”

Hanible loves handing out presents and hugging the children.  She knows what it’s like for these kids, since she grew up in a low income family in Chicago.

“I was that inner-city youth that didn’t have much for Christmas even though my mom, she tried her best,” she said.

The school’s educational programs coordinator, Jenny Errico, said a lot of the families worry about having a roof over their head and food on the table.

“They don’t have anything extra for Christmas.  We know at least these children will be getting something for Christmas,” said Errico.

Garrett picked out a police car that makes a siren noise. Only five, he had already decided he wanted to be a military policeman when he grows up. His mother Christina Corbin said this police car couldn’t be a better present

“It helps out a great bit because that will probably be his one big gift,” she said.

Jessica Pacheco was happy her son Eric got a present he liked. She said money has been tight for a while after her husband got laid off from his job. Toys for Tots has a special place in her family.

“We’ve been fortunate where some years we’ve been able to donate to it, so it’s really nice that he can get some [present] this year,” she said.

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