For Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Sardine, the mission of Toys for Tots was truly hammered home the first time he visited a children’s hospital for terminally ill children.
Not only would they not be going home for Christmas, but they wouldn’t be going home, ever. One of their last wishes was to have a Marine visit them — with a toy in hand, of course.
“I believe Toys for Tots is an important organization for men and women because it brings us together for a positive cause,” Sardine said in an email interview. “Giving back to the children in our neighborhoods lets everyone know regardless of the hardships we go through, that we [Marines] will always be here to take care of our local families and children.”
Creation of Toys for Tots
Since 1948, Marine Corps Reserve units have been collecting and distributing an average of 18 million toys to approximately 7 million children each holiday season – more than 272 million to date.
Additionally, Toys for Tots – an official activity of the Marine Corps – has a literacy program providing local nonprofit organizations with books to distribute to children in need. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. James B. Laster, Toys for Tots’ President and CEO, said there are roughly 15 million children at or below the poverty level in the United States.
“Last year, we supported about 7.4 million of those children,” Laster said, “so we’re only hitting about half. My goal is to continue increasing that level until we have reached every child in poverty in every state.”
Laster, who served on active duty for 39 years, has served as its leader since Jan. 1, 2020. He wanted to stay connected to the Marines after retirement, and he had seen firsthand what a difference Toys for Tots makes in so many people’s lives.
“We have been contacted by Marines on active duty right now who said that if they hadn’t had the benefit of receiving a toy or book from the Toys for Tots Foundation when they were young, it may have changed their outlook on life to the extent that they may not have turned out the way they did,” Laster said. “In once case, it was two brothers who decided to go into the Marine Corps together just to pay back a little bit of what Toys for Tots did for them.”
How to donate
Sardine, the Toys for Tots coordinator in Garden City, New York, is responsible for everything from the edge of Queens, New York City, to the end of Long Island. It isn’t easy, he said, but it’s worth it.
The motivation is often personal.
“Some Marines came from poverty and have experienced Christmas with no toys, food or family. Because of that, we know how it feels,” Sardine said. “That’s why we work so hard to ensure no child misses a Christmas. We not only serve and protect our country, but we serve our communities and the families in it.”
Headquartered at Quantico, Virginia, Toys for Tots operates in more than 800 communities in every state, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Local campaigns kicked off in late October and run through mid-December.
Specially marked bins are set up at local businesses, where shoppers place new, unwrapped toys and books.
More than 26,000 volunteers assist Marines to collect, sort and distribute toys in their towns and cities. More than 604 million toys have been given out so far this season alone.
“We couldn’t do this without the generosity of the American people who drop off a toy or book into one of our boxes,” Laster said. “They’re the ones who really make it happen.”