I am involved with my local Marine Corps Toys For Tots program. This is a national effort that has been collecting new, unwrapped Christmas toys (or the money to buy them) for distribution to needy children since 1947.
As I have stood outside retail stores taking donations and telling people about the program, it is clear that the economy is in trouble. Donations across the country are down this year.
In my area, we have one more weekend to collect, and at the current rate, we will have trouble filling the requests we have in hand. And they continue to come in.
There are many families in need this Christmas, and buying gifts and toys won’t make the cut when competing with keeping the heat and lights on or putting food on the table. That’s where Toys For Tots plays a role.
Needy families can register with their local churches or social service agencies. Collected items are channeled through those groups to ensure that they are properly distributed. Generally, items collected will be distributed locally, so people can know that their contributions are helping their neighbors.
Yet even in the midst of this adverse challenge, there are bright spots.
Last weekend, a man approached me at our donation table and asked what kind of items we were looking for. I told him. He said he’d see what he could do and walked away. I didn’t think I’d see him again.
But about an hour later, he returned and had obviously thought a lot about it. He carried a very nice-looking (pink) bat bag, inside which were a brand new softball bat, a glove and a ball. He said he had a daughter who plays softball and thought about what she’d like to get under the tree. His gift will surely make some little girl shine this Christmas.
Another time, three little girls accompanied their mother. As they walked past me into the store, one of the little girls asked her mom why we were there. Mom took time to stop and explain to the girls why we had to collect money or toys to help children who otherwise might not have anything.
One of the little girls reached out her hand to Mom and said, “Can we please give them something, Mommy. We have lots of money.”
When Mom pulled out a ten dollar bill, all three girls were beaming smiles as they helped place it into our collection box and I took a picture for the local papers, with Mom’s permission of course. When they came back out, they each also dropped a new, unwrapped toy into our box.
Those little girls learned about the joy of giving to a good cause early in life, thanks to an alert mom who took advantage of the opportunity to guide them.
Unfortunately, not all of our encounters are success stories such as these. We get our share of the opposite.
I’ve had people tell me they’re out of a job and can’t afford their own Christmas, let alone someone else’s. I tell them I feel their pain and suggest a visit to their local church or social service office to register for gifts. Some say they will do that.
After doing this for a while, you learn to read people and know instinctively which are prone to giving and who might not. But even then, you can’t judge a book by its cover. You never know from where generosity will spring forth.
One Saturday, I was outside the front doors of a large local variety store and a rusty, beat-up old Chevy Caprice drove by, spewing oil like a James Bond spy car smoke screen and sporting a front bumper held up by bailing wire.
An old man climbed stiffly out from behind the steering wheel after he parked it. He had a three-day beard, patched and somewhat grimy clothes, and looked like he could have used a good shower. As he hobbled toward me, I nodded and said hello. He stopped and looked at our signage, then kept on walking into the store.
I sort of forgot about him. About 20 minutes later, he came back with a shopping cart full of toys. He stopped at our collection box and, to my surprise, channeled all of the toys into it. I thanked him and he just looked at me with a twinkle in his piercing brown eyes as if to say, “Didn’t see that one coming, did you?”
Then he just walked on back to his jalopy and drove off.
Santa comes in all sorts of disguises, I guess.
This last weekend, we’re putting on a full-court press and hope to fulfill all requests. We’ve had to close applications unless we get more donations.
Anyone interested in donating in your area can go to toysfortots.org to get contact information for your local coordinator.
Maybe you could be someone’s Secret Santa this Christmas.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is a regular contributor to PRB and lives in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (678) 350-8642 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.