By Sarrah Peters/News Editor
In the Catholic Center of Concern on Chestnut Street in Gadsden, a back room has been converted into what looks like a toy store. Industrial shelves are lined with toys for children of all ages. But this is no toy store; this is the local Toys for Tots program’s base of operations.
Toys for Tots provides toys for the holidays for infants and children up to 18 years old from families in need. The program operates with volunteer help. Although the organization is most visible during the holiday season, volunteers from Toys for Tots work year-round buying presents for the holidays. The volunteers search for the best discounts possible, often working with management to make sure the toys they buy are within the program’s price requirement. Toys for Tots is not allowed to spend more than $30 on any toy it buys in order to make sure resources are used responsibly and to help as many children as possible.
Volunteers review the age and gender of the children receiving gifts and pack appropriate toys into black trash bags, along with any specially requested toys the program was able to provide for a child. Toys for Tots even provides batteries for any toys that require them. The toys are not wrapped, allowing parents and guardians to see what toys their children will receive and wrap the presents themselves.
The program receives help through donations of money, services and toys. This year the Attalla Walmart donated $2,500 and the East Gadsden and Centre Walmarts donated $1,000 each. Jack’s in Etowah County, Hardees and Wendy’s put out Toys for Tots coin collection buckets. Jack’s even broke its previous record for collection. U-Haul donated the free use of a truck for three months. Individuals can, and do, donate both money and toys.
“The generosity just blows me away,” said Charlie Walker, local Toys for Tots Coordinating Officer.
This year, the local Toys for Tots programs will help provide Christmas presents for even more families this year. Last year, the organization helped about 500 families with about 1,400 children. This year, the organization was able to help about 700 children with 1700 to 1800 children.
Toys for Tots, a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program, got its start in 1947. Major Bill Hendricks started the organization after his wife Diane crafted the doll and asked her husband to deliver the toy to an organization that would donate it to a needy child for Christmas. However, no such organization existed, so Major Hendricks established a program to collect and distribute toys in Los Angeles. That first year, 5,000 toys were distributed. With the program’s success, in 1948 the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve expanded the program to be nationwide. Hendricks served in the reserves on weekends, but during the week was the director of public relations for Warner Brothers Studio, which enabled him to enlist celebrity help and endorsement. In fact, the Toys for Tots logo was designed by Walt Disney in 1948.
For more information about Toys for Tots and its application process, which is currently closed for this year, visit www.toysfortots.org.