This time each year, local Marines are deployed throughout San Diego County to collect and stand sentinel over piles of new playthings. As representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (USMCR) Toys for Tots Program, their duty is to deliver to underprivileged children-via donated unwrapped toys-a message of hope and the motivation to become productive and patriotic citizens.
The Toy for Tots campaign's success depends on both the USMCR's effort and civilian support.
"Last year in San Diego, we gave out more than 168,000 toys," says 2nd Lt. Justin R. West, local coordinator of the program. "We have a very generous community and, along with the help of our major sponsors, we're hoping to pass that number this year."
Toys for Tots has played Santa since 1947, when USMCR Maj. Bill Hendricks and his wife Diana launched the first drive in Los Angeles, gathering nearly 5,000 toys for needy kids. Today, the program (working in tandem with the Triangle, Virginia-based Marine Toys for Tots Foundation) oversees the collection and distribution of more than 20 million toys annually from communities in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.
Major names in the worlds of business (Toys R Us, Walmart, Wells Fargo) and entertainment (Bob Hope, Nancy Reagan) have supported Toys for Tots over the years. In San Diego, NBC 7/39, the Chargers, the Poinsettia Bowl and the USS Midway Museum all are hosting toy-drive events during December, not to mention the many stores, private holiday events, schools and organizations that will be pitching in. (For donations and toy drop-off locations, visit san-diego-ca.toysfortots.org.)
Says coordinator West, who's bullish about this year's early donation pace: "Giving kids joy and a brighter Christmas-who wouldn't want that?"