Like many others, Marine Corps Reserve Staff Sgt. James Caldwell has a lasting, personal connection with the Toys for Tots program.
About eight years ago when he was a door greeter during a Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots distribution event for a group of children in foster care, he handed a little girl a bag of toys.
She reached into the bag and pulled out a stuffed animal and said, “Someone needs to make sure you get a toy, too.”
Caldwell, in one of the many stories told on the Toys for Tots website, says he had to walk away for a few minutes because of his tears, and that experience is one reason for his passion in continuing to volunteer for the 76-year-old program.
But his personal connection began years ago, when he also was one of those children who received toys from Toys for Tots.
He and his little sister were the recipients of those toys because his parents had adopted them, he said.
He was put into his foster family home at six months old, he said. When he was almost five years old, his foster parents were able to finally officially adopt him.
The 2023 Toys for Tots campaign is in full swing, with 864 different chapters across the United States collecting toys, games and books for children in need.
Retired Marine Corps Col. Ted Silvester, vice president for marketing and development for Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, said, “The need is significant. We’re getting a lot of requests to all of our chapters.”
The chapters are in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The 75th anniversary of Toys for Tots in 2022 was a record year for donations, Silvester said. More than 24 million toys were given to 10 million children.
“We’re looking to repeat that,” he said.
In the past 76 years, 652 million toys, games and books have been given to 291 million children during the holidays.
The chapters conduct campaigns to collect toys at varying times during the holidays. Many organizations have toy drives to support their local Toys for Tots campaigns.
One example is Disney, which has collected more than 16,000 toys so far for 2023 in its toy drive. Toys can be donated online through Disney’s program through Dec. 24 ― or can be dropped off at Disney drop-off locations through Dec. 15.
In addition, Disney has announced grants to Toys for Tots that will provide another 75,000 toys for children in need.
Disney has a long-standing connection with Toys for Tots, which was founded in 1947. That year, Walt Disney and his team of animators designed the Toys for Tots logo, which is still used.
To donate online to Toys for Tots, to find a local chapter, or to request a toy, visit toysfortots.org/support-us.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.
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