Christmas Gift Giving – Toys for Tots

Original Toys for Tots Poster - 1948
Original Toys for Tots Poster – 1948

This year spread the Christmas spirit by donating a new toy to Toys for Tots. Make it a green gift by giving a toy dump truck made from recycled plastic, a nature-inspired book like The Lorax, or a selection of seed packets and child-size gardening tools.

My spouse and I had been donating gifts to Toys for Tots periodically through the years, but that changed when we moved to a small town on California’s central coast in 2007.

During our first holiday season here, seeing Toys for Tots donation boxes in the local stores reminded us to include less fortunate children in our Christmas shopping and inspired us to make giving to Toys for Tots an annual tradition.

A few weeks ago, after a UPS box arrived containing a GoldieBlox building set my spouse had bought for Toys for Tots, I decided to find out more about Toys for Tots and share what I learned.

What is Toys for Tots?

The Toys for Tots mission is simple, to deliver a message of hope and bring a smile to a child’s face with a new toy at Christmastime.

Each year during October, November, and December, U.S. Marine Corps reservists and local volunteers coordinate Toys for Tots programs in their communities. Toys for Tots donation boxes pop up at fire stations, churches, schools, libraries, and stores in hundreds of towns and cities across the country. People in the community donate new unwrapped toys.

Former Marine Harry Smith with Toys for Tots Collection Boxes and Toys - Photo: Pat van den Beemt
Former Marine Harry Smith began volunteering with Toys for Tots during its first year in 1947 – Photo: Pat van den Beemt

Toys for Tots coordinators working with social service agencies, schools, and other groups identify children eligible to receive toys and manage collecting, sorting, and distributing the toys to parents and guardians of children within the community in which they were donated.

Toys for Tots History

In 1947, Mrs. Diane Hendricks asked a favor of her husband William L. Hendricks, which led to founding Toys for Tots.

As the story goes, Mrs. Hendricks requested Mr. Hendricks, a Warner Brothers Studio executive and major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, to use his contacts to coordinate collecting and distributing toys to less fortunate children in Los Angles at Christmastime. Mr. Hendricks and a group of local U.S. Marine Corps reservists collected and distributed 5,000 new and used toys that first year!

Apparently, Mr. Hendricks was a persuasive person because, in 1948, the U.S Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots as an official activity and expanded it by having Marines at Reserve Centers across the country coordinate local toy drives. He also roped celebrities into endorsing the program and convinced Walt Disney to design a logo, the now famous red train.

Toys for Tots Train Logo

Over the next several decades, toy donations to Toys for Tots continued to grow and professional athletes, United States First Ladies, and corporate sponsors joined entertainment celebrities in promoting the program and spreading the word.

Initially, both new and used toys were accepted by Toys for Tots. For over 30 years, Marine reservists refurbished used toys during October and November drill weekends, but it was a time-consuming activity. In 1980, Toys for Tots adopted a new toy only policy.

The nonprofit Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was founded in 1991 to perform fundraising activities, supplement local toy collection efforts, and for legal and tax purposes.

In 1995, then U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry approved Toys for Tots as an official mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The next year, Toys for Tots expanded to all 50 states by authorizing Marine veterans or community representatives to coordinate Toys for Tots campaigns in communities without Marine Reserve Centers.

Now in its 68th year, Toys for Tots is running strong having collected over 469 million toys and distributing them to over 216 million children!

Toys for Tots in Our Community

Each year, over 250 children in our community receive toys from Toys for Tots due to the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers.

The Lorax Book CoverIn our small town, the local American Legion post sponsors Toys for Tots assisted by various community volunteer organizations. A family advocate from the school system conducts the main outreach activity by contacting parents and guardians of children eligible for the free school lunch program. Interested parents provide the names, ages, and genders of their children.

In mid-December, volunteers collect the donation boxes and deliver them to our local Veterans Hall where volunteers sort the toys by age and gender. Depending on how many toys are donated, the volunteers select one or more toys for each child and place them in bags. Parents and guardians pick up the toys on a specific day.

Buying a toy and placing it in a Toys for Tots collection box is easy when you compare it to what the Marines and other volunteers do. Let’s fill up Toys for Tots donation boxes and spread the Christmas spirit to children all across the country.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

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