There is no shortage of support for the military community with over 45,000 organizations focused on this demographic. And some ideas are just that good that they have staying power, like Toys for Tots which was established in 1947 by Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks. Now, more than seven decades later, the organization distributes an average of 18 million toys to millions of children each year.
What makes Toys for Tots so special? How has it lasted for almost 75 years? Some of the success of Toys for Tots can be attributed to their corporate sponsors, which include Sears, Hallmark, and Walt Disney. They also have planned giving and employer gift matching for financial contributions. And, they make it really, really hard to say no to a dashing young Marine in uniform standing next to a collection box.
A holiday tradition was born
Toys for Tots actually started with an idea from Hendrick’s wife, Diane. She had made some handcrafted dolls and her husband set out to find an organization that would accept them and give them away at Christmas time. Bill Hendricks, whose civilian, full-time job was as director of public relations at Warner Brothers Studios, couldn’t find anything in his local area. When he came home and told her such, she suggested he start one.
So Hendricks teamed up with some friends, including Walt Disney — who designed the first poster and eventually the image used for the logo — and his reserve unit in Los Angeles. That first year they collected and distributed 5,000 toys.
The next year the commandant directed all reserve sites to implement a Toys for Tots program, and just over 40 years later, in 1991 the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation was officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charity.
The foundation’s job is to help support individual Marine Reserve sites run their programs. The management of all the funds raised, corporate supporters, public education, and handle all the day-to-day operations are handled by the foundation.
Occasionally, active-duty Marines play a role in their local Toys for Tots program too. When Matthew Okonsky was stationed in Michigan in the early 2000s, he worked with the program.
“It’s the reserve’s program to run. The only reason I was involved as active duty is because I was on I&I duty (inspector instructor). Selfridge Air National Guard Base is just north of Detroit and our area covered the Detroit area at large,” he said.
Okonsky was also a member of the Marine Corps Reserve in Western Pennsylvania, where he also participated in Toys for Tots.
Local support crucial for Toys for Tots
The beauty of Toys for Tots is that the success is based on the local community. From one side of the country to another, local organizations are the backbone that supports the distribution of toys in their community.
In Orange County, California, that looks like 162,572 toys collected in 2018, supporting 81,286 children.
“This year the goal is 170,000 toys collected this year,” said Marine Sgt. Brian Moran, who is in his second year of managing the program locally.
Moran spends most of his year working in supply administration and logistics, and then in mid-September moves into his role with Toys for Tots.
“I’m the middleman between the community and the donors who help us with cash, toys, or gift cards for distribution,” he said.
He starts with marketing to local companies in September and then once the season kicks off on October 1st, Moran coordinates the box drop-offs and collections.
Across the country, near the growing installation of Fort Gordon, Georgia, is a smaller, but just as effective campaign.
“Last year the Central Savannah River Area Toys for Tots serviced 41,107 children,” local coordinator Ann Woods said. “This year we plan to double that.”
The CSRA Toys for Tots has over 750 boxes throughout the area, at places like grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, and businesses. Some of their larger supporters are business, like Plant Vogel and local churches such as Abilene Baptist Church.
Local support is how all Toys for Tots programs gain success. To find your local coordinator for donation and volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.toysfortots.org/request_toys/Default.aspx.
“Giving any thing you can — in any way that you can — is a huge benefit to the program. The impact each donation makes, whether big or small, brings a huge smile to a child’s face,” Moran said.Read comments