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Toys for Tots program could use more elves

By Rob Hedelt, The Free Lance-Star

WOODBRIDGE—One member of the team, Sgt. Jeremy Olson of Spotsylvania County, supervises distribution of the more than 150,000 donated toys that flood into the collection center for the Quantico Toys for Tots program. 

Another, Staff Sgt. Matthew Johnston of Stafford County, is the assistant coordinator of  campaign, which will give some 80,000 children a merry Christmas this holiday season.

  The local pair are half of the four-man crew of active-duty Marines assigned seasonally to the Christmas assistance effort that’s just now going into high gear.

  But as they note, officials of the campaign couldn’t function without hundreds of volunteers who do everything from processing toys in the warehouse to driving trucks making pickups.

  With the last chance to donate toys to drop-off sites throughout the region set for Dec. 18, and final distribution a few days later, campaign officials say they need more help, and soon.

   “We are in great need of volunteers to help in the warehouse here in Woodbridge during the week,”  said Wilma Vaughn, who works with the campaign both as a volunteer and as a public-relations staffer for Quantico.

  She noted that the Toys for Tots effort that serves localities from Northern Virginia to Richmond has lots of volunteers on weekends.

  “But Monday to Friday, when a lot of our volunteers need to be at work, we’re very light on helpers in the warehouse,” she said.

  Another critical need: “As every year, we’re short on toys for children, both boys and girls, 11 to 14,” said Vaughn, who noted that a good price guideline for toys is $24 to $35.

  “We got a $250 toy in the other day,” she noted. “That’s generous, but with the number of toys coming in down at this point, that money could have provided toys for nearly a  dozen children.”

  MARINE VOLUNTEERS

Olson, Johnston and others who work in the toy collection/distribution center in Woodbridge say they’re especially thankful for the folks who volunteer. 

Many who put in long hours driving trucks, unloading gifts and pulling together “orders” going out to different agencies are Marine volunteers from Quantico.

They’ve all got different reasons for wanting to take part,” said Olson. “For most, it’s wanting to give back, to help make sure all children get something for Christmas.”

  But he noted that for some, another reason to get involved is connecting to the holiday when family and friends are far away.

  “Helping out is a way to bring a little bit of home to the holiday,” said Olson, who is an electronics tech in the Corps.  

 Johnston, a night-vision equipment specialist when he’s not working with Toys for Tots, said he gets  fulfillment from knowing the campaign helps needy children.

  But he and the rest of the detailed staff look at it another way, as well: making sure the result of the effort is “mission accomplished.” 

“This is our job and we’re going to make sure it gets done,” he said, noting that the Marines who wear their dress blues to more than 100 special collection events from Annandale to Bowling Green are a big part of the success. 

He and others on the staff noted several misconceptions some in the public have with the campaign, such as that it’s just for “tots,” when the program actually serves children up to the age of 14.

  Or, as Johnston notes, that the campaign has an infinite number of Marines assigned to handle all the work of the campaign. 

 “In reality, there are four of us,” he said. “That’s why getting volunteers is so critical. And why we appreciate them so much.”

 

HOW TO HELP

  The area Toys for Tots campaign serves the counties of Arlington, Caroline, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, King George, Orange, Prince William, Rappahannock, Spotsylvania and Stafford and the city of Fredericksburg. To find toy drop-off sites, donate by credit card or sign up to volunteer, 

go to toysfortots.org, or call 571/285-3976.

Rob Hedelt:  540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

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