Toys for Tots keeps on trucking …and biking and dolling

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Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor helps load a bin of toys into a Toys for Tots collection truck at Cheney Stadium last Friday. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

The unofficial “end” of the annual Toys for Tots drive in Pierce County is here. Toys have been collected and are being distributed this week – all 50,000 or so of them – to children around the region in time for Christmas, But truth be told, the effort never stops. Ever.

“It is a 12-month operation,” said Toys for Tots organizer Jeff Brennan. “There is always a lot going on.”

Toys for Tots has toy collection bins and toy drives throughout the year, but the big push comes in November and December. The effort by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and assisted locally by Crime Stoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Tacoma Fire Department, collected thousands of child-focused gifts at a toy drive at Cheney Stadium on Friday.

The tractor trailer filled with toys was then driven to a warehouse on the Tacoma Tideflats that the Puyallup Tribe of Indians donated after Toys for Tots had to abruptly leave its previous warehouse space in Tacoma’s Brewery District when the facility was sold this fall.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to function the way we do,” Brennan said. “Because of the Puyallup Tribe, we help out a lot of other tribes that are less fortunate.”

While most of the toys collected locally stay in Pierce County and are distributed to families who receive state or federal assistance, some toys travel as far away as South Dakota to help children less fortunate there have a brighter holiday with new toys.

Toys for Tots started out simply enough, and almost by chance. The year was 1947. Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks wanted to find an organization to donate a handmade doll that his wife Diane had made. Finding none, they did what Marines do: They solved the problem by forming just such an organization themselves with help from other Marine Reservists. They gathered 5,000 toys that year and boomed the effort into a national toy drive the following year.

Toys for Tots became its own nonprofit foundation in 1991 and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve four years later. The effort grew again in 1996, when it enlisted the support of Marine Corps League detachments and other local organizations.

The Toys for Tots Program and Foundation now tallies more than 512 million toys donated to needy children around the nation since it formed as a single idea around a kitchen table to give a Raggedy Anne doll away to a child for Christmas.

The Toys for Tots Marine Corps Reserve Program in Tacoma/Pierce County is an all-volunteer group largely supported by volunteers from AMVETS Post 1 and the Marine Corps League Detachment #504. The goal this year is to gather 65,000 toys this holiday season.

For information on how you can help, visit pierce-county-wa.toysfortots.org.

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