Toys for Tots seeks donations for holiday season
The United States Marine Corps adopted the Toys for Tots program 65 years ago, after the program had been created a year earlier, by Maj. Bill Hendricks from a reserve center in Los Angeles, Calif. From one local program created to collect toys to be distributed to young needy children, the organization has grown to 760 campaigns this year.
“It started out in 1947, with just that one reserve center in Los Angeles. They gave out 5,000 toys the first year,” said Jack Carey, Toys for Tots coordinator for the First State Detachment. “Now, we’re giving out 16 million toys a year.
“And it’s growing each year — we have more and more people getting involved in it. Not just Marines, but volunteer fire departments, American Legions. There’s a great need out there, and it’s got to be answered. We’re fortunate that people are responding to it.”
Carey, a Marine Corps veteran, became involved in Toys for Tots when he moved to the area more than a decade ago.
“When I moved to Delaware, I joined the Marine Corps League. It’s a veterans’ association made up of former Marines and Navy corpsmen who have served with the Marine Corps,” he explained. “We were doing Toys for Tots here in Ocean View since 1989. I became involved in 2000 as one of the toy collectors, and seven years ago I took over as coordinator.
Last year, the First State Detachment’s Toys for Tots was able to provide toys for 3,600 children, giving out 8,800 toys.
“We collect them, buy them. We get some from the foundation. They supplement the collection we have. We do fundraisers to raise money to buy toys. We distribute our toys not to individual families but to nonprofit charitable organizations.
“One of our big recipients, of course, is the Delaware Social Services, for foster kids and other kids in need,” he explained. “We don’t have the manpower to see if Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Smith has needy children. So we go to the professionals.”
Carey said the organization raises toys and divides up donations by age group. Toys are donated to children signed up through various community organizations, such as the Dagsboro Church of God and the Boys & Girls Club.
“We try to give every individual two toys — that’s our goal. Sometimes we can give more, sometimes we can’t. We always give away what we have.”
For this holiday season, Carey is asking the community to help spread some holiday cheer to those children in need by supporting Toys for Tots.
“In 2000, we had about 1,600 kids. And here we are, last year we had 3,600 kids, and it keeps escalating. It doesn’t go down,” he said. “Last year, nationwide, we gave out 16.8 million toys to 7 million children.
“Government statistics tell us that there are 14 million children that live under the poverty level in our country,” he noted, “and we got to 7 million of them. This year, in 2013, we’ll have 760 people like me raising toys throughout the country. When I started seven years ago, there were 540 or so. So it’s grown quite a bit.”
Those who wish to help may donate monetarily, or by dropping off new, unwrapped toys in one of many area drop-off boxes. Carey added that the foundation is especially in need of toys for the younger and older children.
“When people hear the term ‘Toys for Tots,’ a picture comes into their mind of a 3-year-old to a 9-year-old. The newborns and the older children get left behind. So we ask people to concentrate on the little guys and the older guys, too,” he said. “We find we’re getting older children. We have a cutoff of 14, but a situation comes where these agencies have all foster children, and some of them are 17 and 16. You don’t want to exclude anyone.”
Drop boxes where new toys may be left for donation are located at various sites throughout the community. Local businesses, such as Tidepool Toys & Games in Bethany Beach, which has a drop box, even hold drives for the foundation.
“The folks up there — Lori and Sandy Smyth — donated 20 percent of the receipts that day for Toys for Tots. That was extremely generous. We did get several hundred dollars’ worth of toys,” he said.
“It was gratifying to see the response the public had to the outing, but also while I was there in uniform, many people came up, stopped and thanked me for my service in the Corps, which was very, very gratifying. I was very appreciative.”
Carey said that other businesses offer support however they can.
“Millville Mini Storage gives us one of their storage units year-round. It’s donated, and that’s where we store all of our boxes and materials that we use for our fundraisers. We get that every year for nothing,” he said. “People have homeowners associations now where they’ll have a Toys for Tots Christmas party. When they have a gathering, they request everyone bring a toy, and we’re the recipients of that.”
Along with drop boxes, community members may attend various fundraisers that the foundation holds during the month of December, from which all proceeds will be given to the foundation.
One such fundraiser will be held on Dec. 15, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Princess Royale in Ocean City, Md., with tickets costing $10 per person. On Dec. 21, from noon to 3 p.m., a fundraiser will be held at The Cove in the Bayside community in West Fenwick, with tickets also costing $10 per person. Musical group The Imagines will perform at both events, and tickets may be purchased at the door.
On Dec. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m., a fundraiser will be held at Mio Fratello’s in West Fenwick, with tickets costing $15 per person. The seating is limited, so attendees are being asked to purchase tickets in advance, from the restaurant. Musician Mario Rocco is scheduled to perform. No toys donations are being accepted during at the fundraisers, but they can still be donated at one of the drop-off boxes at other times.
Carey noted that 97 cents of every dollar donated goes to buying a toy.
“None of the salaries involved in Toys for Tots Foundation are paid for out of donated money. For that, they have a trust fund that was set up many, many years ago. We’re very proud of that, and having worked for them for several years, I can tell you they watch every single penny.”
Carey said the fundraising efforts are a year-round job, even though the main collection begins in November and ends on Dec. 20.
“We find each year we have an increase in kids — every year. We’ve been able to increase the giving, and the community has responded beautifully,” he said. “We’re on schedule to be pretty close to where we were last year with children, it looks like. The response so far — it’s just begun, but it appears we’ll be able to have two toys for every child. There’s great community spirit down in this area. People are willing to take the extra step and help the other guy.”
Carey said that the local community has been overwhelmingly supportive, and he’s grateful for everyone helping and giving those less fortunate a better holiday.
“The amount of people and what they give — I have to say it’s outstanding. We seem to have more kids each year, but we seem to be able to collect more toys and have more money to buy more toys. The local community has been very responsive,” he reiterated. “I go to a conference out in Virginia every year with other Toys for Tots coordinators. And some of their communities don’t respond to the situation, believe it or not.
“It’s very, very gratifying. I have four children, and now I have four grandchildren. I see the faces of these kids, and the people that we deal with tell us that, without us, Christmas would just be another day for some of these children.”
For more information about the Toys for Tots Foundation or to donate, visit www.toysfortots.org.