Toys for Tots keeps alive kids' Christmas hopes

Thursday, November 20, 2008
Alexander Puckett, who will be 3 just before Christmas, visited First Community Bank Monday with his great-grandmother, Dorothea LaCoss, and wondered what was supposed to be in the big box. The Toys for Tots boxes were put out Friday in many places around town and will collect toys until Wednesday, Dec. 10. (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

For years, the firefighters of Shelbyville and the surrounding communities and members of the U.S. Marine Corps have been gathering toys for children in need. The Toys for Tots drop boxes can be found around town, from the fire halls themselves to banks, stores and newspaper offices.

This year, said Cindi Loso, vice president at First Community Bank, it will be even more important to help the children.

"With the economy the way it is, for a lot of these children, Christmas can only come through this program," she said.

And it isn't just employees dropping off new, unwrapped toys in the collections boxes. Customers bring in many of the toys as well. As the toys are collected, they are taken to the Shelbyville Fire Department, which will later distribute them to children on the list.

"We are now signing people up who are in need," said Fire Inspector Capt. Brian Nicholson.

Partners unite

The relationship between firefighters, toys, children and Christmas is a long-standing one, going back to the days when the on-duty firefighters would sit around the station, mending and renewing old toys to be given away later.

"We used to repair old toys, but because of liability issues, we can't do that anymore," said Nicholson. The toys must be new, in their original packaging, and donors should not gift-wrap them.

Rather than give up on the tradition because they could no longer fix old bicycles or dolls, the firefighters decided to assist the United States Marine Corps, which has been operating Toys for Tots for more than 60 years.

Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and a group of Marine reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. The 1947 pilot project was so successful the Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots in 1948 and expanded it into a nationwide campaign.

New toys

As with the firefighters, originally the Marine reservists would repair and clean up old toys, but since 1980, only new toys have been given out. One reason was because the role of the Marine Corps Reserve had changed and there was less time to work on toys. Besides the liability issue of old toys, there was a third, more important reason to use only new toys.

"Distributing 'hand-me-down' toys does not send the message Marines want to send to needy children," states the official web site at "The goal is to deliver a message of hope, which will build self-esteem and, in turn, motivate needy children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. A shiny new toy is the best means of accomplishing this goal."

"Any program that helps children is important," said Loso. "It doesn't take much to put a smile on a child's face."

Toys for Tots does more than help children.

"We do it to help the community," said Nicholson. "It's another way to serve. The Toys for Tots is an opportunity to help out -- and get that Christmas spirit to our guys."

Retired USMC Col. Ken Crowell works closely locally with Capt. Matt Doak, who heads the Shelbyville operation.

Parade donations

"We will have a Marine color guard in the Christmas parade this year and people can bring a new toy or make a donation," Crowell said.

Toys for Tots is a 501(c)3 charity, said Crowell, which means not only are donations tax-deductible, the organization can buy the toy tax-free.

"We can take a dollar and turn it into a dollar and a half," he said. "Any toy donated in Bedford County stays in Bedford County, and every penny donated here goes right into the foundation."

The last day to drop off toys is Wednesday, Dec. 10. For more information about signing a child up for Toys for Tots, call the fire hall at 684-6241. For more information about the history of Toys for Tots, go to


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