Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. --
The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program has proudly served the nation’s children for more than 60 years and area Marines have long been a part of that tradition.
The local campaigns have been going strong, despite the many challenges they have faced this year.
“Due to the recent economic conditions, people are not as willing or able to donate, so we’ve fallen back on our quota,” said Sgt. Gerardo D. Ricardez, Camp Lejeune area Toys for Tots coordinator. “Our ultimate goal is 60,000 toys by the end of the campaign, however, at this point, we are about 20,000 short.”
Along with the downward spiraling economy, the local campaign has seen an influx of children in need. That, coupled with a decrease in sponsors, has created the biggest challenge to overcome.
“There are a lot of kids out there. We get lists with literally thousands of names on them,” he said. “These are kids in addition to those we already have given toys to.”
Undeterred, the campaign presses on to meet the needs of the eight counties.
“We are hosting more special events than usual this year,” he said. “Marines tend to warm people’s hearts so we’re trying to get out there more.”
More than 20 toy and fundraising events are scheduled to be held in the surrounding areas between now and Christmas. All the money and toys collected at these events will stay in the county where it was collected.
“A lot of people want to help their communities,” he said. “The money we collect won’t leave their area. If we are short on gifts in a particular county, we can get supplemented toys from the foundation.”
Gifts for teenagers and infants tend to be the toys the campaign falls short on. The local campaign can fill this void in two ways. The campaign can request the gifts from the national foundation and monetary gifts can be used to purchase toys for the age and gender group that is lacking.
The most desirable way to fill these gaps is through private toy donations. In the eight counties covered, there are more than 400 drop sites for people to donate toys.
“We’ve had great support from the base,” he said. “Units have had their own fundraisers and toy drives. But at the end, we’re still struggling.”
Last year, Camp Lejeune’s campaign manned four counties and raised more than 48,000 toys and was able to give each child two gifts and two stocking stuffers to brighten their Christmas.
“I have kids myself and I don’t want to see those kids go without things they need, especially at Christmas,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Caton, a reserve Marine working with Toys for Tots. “It shows the Marine Corps in a positive light and shows we really do care about people both home and abroad.”
There are plenty of opportunities to help Toys for Tots through toy and monetary donations and volunteer positions.
For more information or to find out how you can help, call 547-7474 or visit the Toys for Tots Web site at www.toysfortots.org