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Marines Continue Tradition of Giving Through ‘Toys for Tots’ Program

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2006 – The Marine Corps is renowned for its fighting ability, but the organization also is famous for its nearly 60-year tradition of ensuring needy children don’t have empty Christmas stockings.

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2006 Toys for Tots poster

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The “Toys for Tots” program began in the fall of 1947 when a group of Marine Reservists based in Los Angeles collected and delivered 5,000 toys to local needy children, according to the Toys for Tots’ non-profit foundation Web site.

Toys for Tots distributed $200 million worth of new toys to more than 7 million needy children in 2005, Bill Grein, vice president for marketing and development for the Toys for Tots’ foundation, said during a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service. Grein’s office is located at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va.

More than 550 Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots distribution centers are located across the country, Grein said, noting the program’s busy time starts after Thanksgiving and runs right up to Christmas. Collected toys are distributed through local social welfare agencies and other organizations.

Toys for Tots enables families of limited means to provide something for their children on Christmas, Grein said. Besides toys for young children, the program also seeks gift donations suitable for teenagers, such as hand-held video games, purses, watches and other items.

“We think it’s important for these children to go back to school and to be able to say: ‘I got something, too,’” he said. “It’s a positive experience in their lives, and when you look back on your childhood, that’s what you remember.”

Grein, a retired Marine major, has worked at the foundation since 1991, when then-Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney authorized the Marine Corps to work with the foundation on behalf of Toys for Tots.

The foundation augments the Marines’ efforts by conducting year-round solicitations for new toy donations and money from U.S. corporations to buy toys, Grein said.

“The Marines just didn’t have the time, other than for the toy-collection process that goes on in November and December every year,” Grein said. “We know that our Marine units out there are going to run out of toys before they run out of children.

“It happens every year, sadly,” he said.

From 1947 through 1979, the Marines collected both new and used toys to provide to needy children for Christmas. During that time Marine Reservists would refurbish and repair the used toys on their drill weekends.

In 1980, the reserve components were incorporated into the Defense Department’s total force concept, resulting in greatly reduced time for reservists to refurbish donated used toys for the program. Efforts were then focused on collecting and providing only new toys.

The Marine Corps continues to work to ensure needy children have memorable Christmases, Grein said. In 2005, the Marines collected and distributed about $150 million worth of new toys through their Toys for Tots program, he said. Foundation-solicited sponsors contributed another $50 million worth of toys.

“What’s happened is that the foundation has provided additional means of providing toys so that we can reach more children,” Grein said.

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