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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

'Santa's helpers' deliver kids a brighter Christmas

Thursday, December 15, 2011

(Photo)
Volunteers were busy Wednesday at the old Kroger building getting some 3,500 toys ready for today's distribution of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys For Tots program. Parents will be lining up this afternoon to help fill those Christmas stockings for kids that otherwise wouldn't have that visit from Santa.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely) [Order this photo]
The old Kroger building on Madison Street has stood empty for years, but there has been a lot of activity brewing inside this week -- all of it related to making sure that every child has a Merry Christmas.

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program has been busy getting ready for today when parents will come to pick up the goodies for their young ones.

Parents began signing up for the list last month, telling organizers how many kids they have, and they will come first in line. Others who did not sign up will be asked to wait at the end for their turn.

Organizers will then let the parents choose the toys, with each given about 10 minutes to make their selections.

Donations down

According to Ken Crowell, a retired Marine colonel who works with the program in Bedford County, about 3,500 toys have been collected this year for the drive.

During past drives, they've tried to give out two large gifts and a small one, but this year parents will be limited to single large and small gifts.

"The demand is so high, and actual donations are not as high as they've been in the past," Crowell said. "Because everybody's hurting."

The program run by the Marine Corps Reserve is nationwide, but all local donations will go to Bedford County families. Crowell has put $2,000 of his own money into the program, but he's okay with that "because it needs to be done."

Crowell said that when he returned to Shelbyville in 2001, he read in the T-G that students at Shelbyville Central High were gathering toys for those in need and wondered where the Marines' nationwide program was in Bedford County, so he kicked it off here.

The first year, they brought two truckloads of toys down from the Reserve headquarters in Nashville and gave them to the students for their drive, and the Toys for Tots drive "has just expanded from that," Crowell said.

Firefighters help

Assistant Fire Chief Brian Nicholson was helping out Wednesday as well, telling the T-G that city fire trucks have been used as "Santa's sleighs" this year.

Nicholson said it's their goal that "every child has a Christmas, not necessarily that every child has a big Christmas .... but we're in high hopes that the toys will hold out."

Those parents that did not make it on the list for Toys for Tots will be able to come in after the main distribution begins at 2 p.m., where parents will have been in line for hours before that. Contributions were still arriving on Wednesday as well, he said

Nicholson added that they are comparing their lists with other charitable organizations in the area to make sure that people aren't overwhelming the system by going to every toy drive that's being held this season.

'It's a blessing'

"We've had an overwhelming amount of contributions," Nicholson said, noting that 63 bikes will be going out to kids. "It's a blessing to these people that contribute ... and the people that come out and help sort toys."

"We've seen a lot of children able to have a Christmas because of this program," he said, not just this year, but in those past."

The fire department's help is critical to the program, Crowell said. "We couldn't have done it without them. They do everything from take names to help distribute the toys."

Drive history

Toys For Tots began in 1947 after Marine Corps reservist Bill Hendricks organized a toy drive in the Los Angeles area. Hendricks' civilian job was director of public relations for Warner Brothers, which gave him access to stars who could help promote the effort.

The next year, the drive went nationwide and Walt Disney designed the Toys For Tots logo that is still in use today, as well as a poster used to promote the program.

At first, reservists refurbished used toys, but beginning in 1980, only new toys were collected.

In the late 1980s, an independent non-profit foundation was created to manage the charity, which is still approved as an official activity of the U.S. Marine Corps and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve.