Marines collect toys for Christmas bliss

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif., (December 9, 2011) -- Stacks of unwrapped new toys including race cars, dolls and board games fill the Toys for Tots collection boxes set out by the Marines of 4th Tank Battalion throughout the San Diego area in the days leading up to the holiday season.

Toys for Tots is a nonprofit charity foundation whose mission statement is to "deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens."

"The program began in 1947, when the wife of Maj. William Hendrix, a reservist in L.A., made a Raggedy Ann doll to donate," said Gunnery Sgt. Bradley T. Smith, the assistant Toys for Tots coordinator with 4th Tank Battalion and an Eatonville, Wash., native. "There was not a charity at the time, so they created Toys for Tots."

Hendrix and a group of fellow reservists gathered toys outside of Warner Bros. Pictures movie theaters for local children on Christmas. The collection was so successful that Toys for Tots became a national campaign the following year.

After the Secretary of Defense's approval in 1995, Toys for Tots became an official Marine Corps Reserve mission. From October to December, Marine Corps reservists across the country collect toys for children in their local areas.

"Through the joint efforts of both reservists and active-duty [Marines] and a mix of nonprofit organizations, we are able to help a lot of children throughout the San Diego area," said 2nd Lt. Justin R. West, the 2011 Toys for Tots coordinator with 4th Tank Battalion and a Phoenix native. "We have Marines not only working at the events, but in warehouses and with the distribution process to make sure the toys make it in the hands of children."

Main gathering sites are in Carlsbad, El Cajon, downtown San Diego and Chula Vista. The final push for toy gathering occurs during four main events in December.

"While we gather toys at small office parties and things like that, our biggest events are the ones with the most public exposure," said Smith. "The NBC Toy Drive and [San Diego] Chargers game are two of our largest events just because that is more in the public's eye."

Donations include new and unwrapped toys for both boys and girls up to age 13. While there is no price limit on gifts, sponsors are encouraged to buy gifts ranging in the $15 to $30 price range. The only donations specifically not collected are religious items that a child may not be able to use in their household. Video games, DVDs and items that require additional purchases for use are discouraged as well.

"We don't have the man power to individually sort out the gifts based on price," said West. "We separate gifts based on age ranges and gender. We tell people that price range as a suggestion to ensure that one child doesn't receive a $15 present, and then his brother gets what could possibly be $100 or more."

Last year's collection, with the combination of public, private and corporate donations allowed Marines to distribute toys to 107,320 children through nonprofit charities, local churches, schools and recreation centers in San Diego.

"We here at [4th Tank Battalion] are always looking for ways to help in the community and show [the public] not only what we do as Marines, but that we are here to help," said West. "This is a great way to help make the Christmas of so many children great. That is why we are out there gathering all of these toys year after year."

There are many opportunities for those who wish to donate a toy or even volunteer to work a collection event. For more information, visit http://www.toysfortots.org/default.asp.

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