MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE --
Christmas is a time for giving and Marines with Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry - East and their families came to Camp Geiger before the holidays, ready to give to families in need.
Prepared to participate in and promote the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program during the 2nd annual AITB Toys for Tots Fun Run, Marines, family members and other Department of Defense personnel braved the morning chill to run in honor of those who face financial hardships and cannot afford to spare money for Christmas gifts.
Service members, families and other DoD personnel dropped off donated toys into a traditional Toys for Tots box before the run. The toys were collect by two Marine reservists from 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division.
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Rademacher, battalion sergeant major of AITB, said the Toys for Tots fun run was important because it was another way for the Marines to aid the community and the less fortunate.
"It all started last year with the inaugural event," Rademacher said. "The commanding officer (Lt. Col. Giles R. Boyce) and I kind of had the idea to help the community out."
Boyce reminded the Marines participating in the run that the presents donated were going to children who might not otherwise receive anything for Christmas, due to financial strains on their families.
Motivated to run for a good cause, students, instructors and family members started and finished the two-mile run loud and proud.
Cpl. Bradley Smelt took first place in the run, followed shortly by Sgt Justin Kilgore and Lance Cpl. Dustin Rodriguez, who came in second and third place respectively.
According to facts from the Toys for Tots Foundation, more than six decades ago, retires Col. Bill Hedricks and Marine eServices in Los Angeles collected and distributed more than 5,000 toys to children and families in need.
The original idea to distribute toys to the less fortunate belong to Hendricks' wife, Diane, who made a doll and asked him to donate it to an organization that gave toys to needy children.
There was no program for such a thing when she made her request, but Diane was determined to help others so she decided to start her own program.
Since then, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program has devoted more than 60 years to less-fortunate families and children during the holiday season. The program has distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children. The service members and civil workers involved in the Toys for Tots program have proven themselves to be permanently dedicated to serving the less-fortunate families and children in local communities across the United States.
"The Jacksonville community is very supportive of us and our Marines throughout the whole year so this is one opportunity for us to give back to (them)," said Capt. Ronald Torgeson, the assistant operations officer for AITB. "Hopefully, this will make Christmas a little bit brighter for some little boy or girl."
With this story in min, and the meaning behind the run fresh in the mind of each runner, participants set out on the two-mile trek to show their support and dedication to the program. They cheered one another on as they ran and crossed the finish line together.
As runners and walkers crossed the finish line, they were invited to enjoy hot beverages, food and conversation in the chilly morning weather, knowing that they made a difference in the life of a child who would receive their toy on Christmas Day.
For more information on donated to the Toys for Tots program, visit www. toysfortots.org.