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Marines send message of hope: Toys for Tots program grows in success over past 54 years of service

By Cpl. M. Trent Lowry | | December 6, 2001

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When she asked her husband to find a way of giving toys to disadvantaged children in 1947, Diane Hendricks probably didn't realize her suggestion would result in the establishment of such a popular institution of giving. Hendricks' query to her husband, then-Marine Corps Reserve Major William Hendricks, became the birth of the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program. The 1947 Toys for Tots campaign successfully distributed more than 5,000 toys to children, which influenced the Marine Corps to adopt the program for each holiday season. Fifty-four years later the giving is still going on strong. The faces of toys may have changed from the droll coziness of teddy bears to the wide-eyed animation of Tickle Me Elmos, but the mission of the Marine Corps Reserve has remained the same. The goal of the program, according to the Toys for Tots website, is to deliver a message of hope to children living in poverty by exposing them to positive examples set by the U.S. Marines who distribute the toys to them each Christmas season.Locally, Marine reservists have a variety of activities planned to promote donation to the Yuma Toys for Tots program. Friday has been declared Yuma Toys for Tots day, with collection activities planned.A Toys for Tots one-pitch softball tournament is planned for Dec. 14 at the station softball fields, and a Toys for Tots trot is scheduled for Dec. 15 at Meyer Park on station.Annually, from Oct. 1 to Dec. 23, Toys for Tots gathers donated toys, then distributes the gifts Dec. 23 and 24 to fiscally-challenged families.Since Christmas of 1980, the Marine Corps Reserve has only distributed new toys. The Toys for Tots program adopted this policy because it's safer for the children, and because it sends a brighter message of hope to the children when they receive new toys, rather than hand-me-downs.The popularity and success of the program has grown steadily in its 54 years.The year 2000 was its most successful campaign, with 15.8 million toys distributed to more than 6.3 million disadvantaged youth. Overall in the past decade, from 1991 to 2000, Toys for Tots has collected and distributed more than 103 million toys to children in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.Marines aren't the only vocal supporters of the Toys for Tots campaigns, though former active duty Marines like actor Glenn Ford, senator and astronaut John Glenn and boxer Ken Norton have all lent their support. Big name friends of Toys for Tots have included John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper, from the beginning of the program, to Tim Allen, George Strait and Clint Eastwood in more modern campaigns. First Ladies have even gotten in on the act. Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush were both national spokespersons for the program during their husbands' tenures in office.The three-train logo for Toys for Tots was designed in 1948 by Walt Disney, who also talked Mickey Mouse into supporting the cause. Other 'toons for Tots have been Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Dennis the Menace.Other charitable organizations have followed in Toys for Tots' footsteps and collect toys for children from poor families. While these organizations do a great job for their communities, the sight of a Marine in crisp dress blues holding a child in his or her arms has been the symbol of children's holiday charities for more than a half century.To give to Toys for Tots, take a new, unwrapped toy to a local collection box, such as the one in the entrance to the station Seven-Day Store.Volunteers can also give of their time to help the cause. Those interested in volunteering can contact Staff Sgt. Willie Denson at 269-2644. For more information on the national Toys for Tots program, access the website at www.toysfortots.org.
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