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Donate Toys for Tots at a trot

EVERY YEAR, officials of our region’s Toys For Tots campaign need to repeat the same request, pleading for toys for older children because the majority of givers tend to enjoy buying for younger tykes.

But this year, in addition to pointing out the need for toys for children from 11 to 14, the good folks who administer the program are citing another critical need—toys donated right now.

“We always get the bulk of the toys in near the end of the campaign, after Thanksgiving is past and people really start thinking about Christmas,” said Staff Sgt. Brett Wagner, who heads up the Quantico Campaign of Toys For Tots.

The problem with that, Wagner said, is that many of the groups served by the program begin picking up toys well before the big bump in giving.

“We’ve had to go out and buy toys with donated funds to satisfy the earliest distributions,” said Wagner, noting that he and the other Marines and civilians detailed to the campaign will soon have spent more than $30,000 to purchase toys.

For those not familiar with the program, the mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to “collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.”

In our region, the toys mostly go to charitable Christmas assistance programs like those run by the Salvation Army, social services agencies in most area localities, SERVE and others.

Wagner and longtime program organizer Wilma Vaughn, community relations officer for Marine Corps Base Quantico, said the region’s needs this Christmas are greater than ever, with more than 160,000 toys required to meet them.

They remind the kind-hearted folks who care enough to help every year that the program seeks new, unwrapped toys for children who range from infants to 14-year-olds.

Suggested gifts on the Toys For Tots website for kids between 11 and 14: “sporting equipment/bags/balls; books, backpacks, cosmetics, purses, watch/wallet gift sets, bath gift sets, board games, radio-control cars/trucks, hand-held electronics, skateboards/helmets, curling irons, hair straighteners and hair dryers.”

Vaughn said there’s also a critical need for volunteers to work in the program’s warehouse—this year in the rear of The Free Lance–Star building in Fredericksburg—with a special need for help on weekdays.

“We tend to get a lot of people volunteering on weekends, but we need help on weekdays as well, especially when we get into December and the flow of toys gets heavier,” she said, noting that on the busiest days, as many as 10,000 toys may be coming and going.

One of the challenges for the Quantico campaign—with the largest service area of any region, from the D.C. line down to Caroline County—is transporting collected and distributed toys.

“We’re having to rely on volunteers and help from various groups to get much of that done this year,” said Wagner, noting that last year, more than $20,000 of funds went for transportation. “We’re trying to be better stewards and have more donated funds go directly to toys and the children.”

He noted that more wealthy counties in Northern Virginia tend to do more giving than getting, as the lion’s share of donated toys are distributed in Fredericksburg and points south.

Last year, more toys were distributed to Spotsylvania County than any other locality.

Another number going up: special Toys For Tots parties and events held throughout the region, many attended by Marines in dress blues to pick up donations of money and toys.

A few of those open to the public:

A Roughnecks Virginia motorcycle run Nov. 30 at 10 a.m. from the Lion & Bull Restaurant in Haymarket to the warehouse here at The Free Lance–Star.

A visit by the Roaring Renegades Mustang Club to the warehouse at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 7.

The Fredericksburg Christmas Parade on Dec. 7 and Scouting Day on Dec. 14 at the warehouse from 8 a.m. to noon. Marines will collect toys for the program in several of the parking lots for the parade, with parking fees from some also going to the program.

Also set for Dec. 14 is a special VRE day where toys and donations are collected, and a Star Radio Group event at Spotsylvania Towne Centre from noon to 6 p.m.

More details about events are available on the campaign website.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

rhedelt@freelancestar.com

 

HELP TOYS FOR TOTS

ONLINE: To find a toy drop-off site or to make an electronic contribution to the Quantico Campaign of Toys For Tots, go online to:

quantico-va.toysfortots.org/local-coordinator-sites/lco-sites/default.aspx. (Click on “Toy Drop-offs” then enter your ZIP code.)

GROUND ZERO: Toys can also be dropped off at this year’s Toys For Tots warehouse, in the back of The Free Lance–Star building on the corner of William and Douglas streets in Fredericksburg.

BY MAIL: Donations can be mailed to: Toys For Tots, 26100 Bailey Avenue, Quantico, Va., 22134, with “Quantico Campaign” on the check’s memo line.

TO VOLUNTEER: Workers fit enough to do some minimal lifting and moving are needed in the warehouse, especially on weekdays. To volunteer, register on the website above or call 703/887-3829.

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