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Christmas in September?

It’s Christmas this month. I know it’s only September, but still, it’s that time of year as far as the Marine Corps is concerned. That’s because the organization has been mailing out its annual charity letters, asking for donations for the Toys for Tots campaign.

Marine Corps Col. Ted Silvester (Ret.) is the vice president of Toys for Tots Foundation. In his letter, he writes that in Nevada as well as elsewhere, there are more children than ever before whose families are struggling financially, with many living at or below the poverty level. “With your support, together, we can deliver a bit of holiday joy to children at Christmas and throughout the year.”

According to the colonel, 97% of donations go directly to the mission of providing toys, books and other gifts to less fortunate children. “Not one donated dollar goes to salaries or any other manpower costs.”

I think most of the public believes that Toys for Tots only delivers Christmas gifts each December. But the organization goes much further than that. For example, when tornadoes tore through six midwestern states, the Corps delivered toys and games and other gifts to children whose lives had been turned upside-down. In California when one of the largest wildfires in the state’s history destroyed 1,000 homes and destroyed a community, the charity delivered toys to children there.

In addition, the foundation supports Tots Literacy Program, a Foster Care initiative and the Toys for Tots Native American Program.

Toys for Tots began as a Los Angeles charitable effort in 1947. Major Bill Hendricks, USMC(R), was inspired by his wife Diane when she tried to donate a homemade Raggedy Ann doll to a needy child but could not find any organization to do so. At her suggestion, he gathered a group of local Marine reservists, including Lieutenant Colonel John Hampton, who coordinated and collected some 5,000 toys for local children that year from collection bins placed outside Warner Bros. movie theaters. Jon B. Riffel also helped found the organization. Their efforts were successful.

In 1948, a feasibility report for the Marines using it as a national public relations and recruitment tool was written by Marine Maj. Donald G. Clarke. Toys For Tots was launched as a national campaign. Hendricks used his position as director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers Studio to enlist celebrity support, as well as have Walt Disney and his animators design a red toy train logo. A theme song for the program was written in 1956 by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, and would be recorded by vocalists Nat King Cole, Jo Stafford, and Peggy Lee, among others.

As it gets closer to Dec. 25, collection boxes will begin showing up at public places where anyone can donate new, unwrapped toys. In 2009, the program received support from First Lady Michelle Obama, who placed the first collection box at the White House. In December 2011, she took part in a Toys for Tots activity at a military base.

But readers in Pahrump don’t have to wait for the boxes to appear, or to buy new toys. They can mail financial donations which will be used by the foundation to purchase toys. The address is Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Attn: Col. Ted Silvester, National Gift Processing Center, P.O. Box 4002036, Des Moines, Iowa 50340-2036.

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