Traditional Values

Marines and Toys for Tots: A Priceless Family Program

Let's-get-it-done attitude behind the movement embodies the determination of this branch's members

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Marine Toys for Tots program is back. Every holiday season I look forward to seeing dedicated Marines dressed to the nines collecting toys to make sure every child has a new present at this time of year.

Toys for Tots has been “delivering hope since 1947.” The annual toy drive began when Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks and his wife, Diane, while stationed in Los Angeles, wanted to deliver toys to families in need.

Not finding an existing organization that filled that need, they enlisted the help of other Marines in Major Hendricks’ unit. Toys for Tots had begun!

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The commandant of the Marine Corps directed all Marine Reserve Sites to support the initiative in their area the following year. In 1991, the official Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was formed as a nonprofit organization.

Celebrities have also publicly supported the program over the years. Walt Disney, a friend of Major Hendricks, designed the official logo. Other celebrity champions have included five of the past six First Ladies of the United States and President Reagan.

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Bob Hope was also an avid supporter and acted as the 1987 national honorary chairman.

The program’s website says 548 million toys have been distributed to support 251 million children. That’s right — 251 million kids have had something special to unwrap due to the generosity of corporate sponsors, the American public, and the USMC Reserve volunteers.

In a society that is (understandably) skeptical of how much of donations to nonprofit organizations go to those in need, Toys for Tots highlights their program/support ratio. Almost 97 percent of donated money and items goes directly to the program. The remaining 3 percent is spent to support the fundraising and administrative aspect of running a nonprofit.

But Toys for Tots draws attention to the fact that “not one donated dollar goes to salaries or any other manpower costs.”

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How are they able to run such a wide-reaching organization without using any donations for salaries and employees? In steps the volunteer spirit of the United States Marine Corps Reserves.

What began out of the Hendricks’ desire to give back during the holidays has continued in that spirit.

Marine Reserve Units volunteer their time to collect toys and distribute them to those in need.

In recent years, specific initiatives have grown to further support those in need. The Toys for Tots Literacy Program provides books to children in need to help support them academically. The UPS Store has been a large partner in the initiative in the 10 years that it has been active. This year, The UPS Store has pledged $100,000 in donated books to schools, non-profits, and philanthropic groups around the country. The Literacy Program is supported by research done by the National Center for Children in Poverty, which shows the importance in access to books in the home.

“Providing children’s books to families will offer these children a fun way to close the reading gap and help improve their academic success,” says Toys for Tots.

The Marine Toys for Tots Native American Program makes sure that gifts are provided to Native American children. When the program began, Native American children in need often did not receive toys due to the logistics challenges of getting deliveries to the intended recipients. Tribal reservation police department volunteers would volunteer their own time and money to drive to California and pick up the toys.

Since 1980, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation supports the initiative by shipping directly to the Tribal reservations.

Even years later, recipients of toys remember the joy that the program brought to their family.

“Toys for Tots was the only reason I received a gift for Christmas each year as a child,” said Cindy from California. “I remember my dad waiting in line the whole day in order for me and my siblings to have something to open on Christmas.”

Similar messages of thanks come from all over the country. Gary from Maine said that he would have “three heartbroken kids” after he was laid off from his job right before Christmas.

“My children are my life,” he said. “I am ever so grateful that Toys for Tots exists.”

Volunteers and donors also offer testimonials on the benefit that the program has had for them. “After the death of my daughter and other personal crises, I felt down, alone and with no self-worth,” volunteer Effie said. Heading up the Toys for Tots distribution in her area helped her find herself again.

“Helping others and getting involved will change you and give you an appreciation for what you have,” she said.

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She has been working with Toys for Tots and other nonprofits in her area for three years.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to lose sight of what is really important. We all get blinded by finding the perfect presents, making sure we fit in all of our holiday traditions, and visiting family and friends far and near. All of these things are great ways to celebrate the season, but I challenge everyone to take a page out of Major and Mrs. Hendricks’ book.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to lose sight of what is really important.

The desire to provide for those in need is a wonderful tribute to the giving spirit of the holidays. The let’s-get-it-done attitude that led them to begin a national movement perfectly embodies the determination of every United States Marine.

If you are interested in donating monetarily or through providing toys and books, you can find Ways to Donate on the Marine Toys for Tots website.

Those wanting to use the Toys for Tots program to provide a holiday gift to a child in their life can visit the Request a Toy page on the same website.

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This OpsLens piece is used by permission.

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