MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Toys for Tots is an annual campaign by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve established to donate toys at Christmas to needy kids, so they are able to experience the same joy as their peers.
Carrying the torch for the past two years has been Gunnery Sgt. Jeremy L. French, Toys for Tots coordinator, Detachment 2, Supply Company, 4th Supply Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, Marine Forces Reserve.
Despite the current recession, the local Marine Corps Reserve unit wrapped up another successful toy drive campaign by handing out 7,478 toys on Dec. 19.
“This year was a trying time because of the economy and toy donations were down from last year, but we did collect 6,476 toys locally. We collected monetary donations in the mount of $6,364.50 and we were given $9,000 by Toys “R” Us, which is a national sponsor of Toys for Tots. That money had to be spent in their stores, so we spent a total of $14,860 on toys for the 2009 campaign,” French explained.
French said that the number of requests for toys were significantly higher this year, due to the local economy. The annual toy drive is for Southwest Georgia residents, which means he works with other communities such as Bainbridge, Dawson, Camilla, Cairo, Cordele, Tifton and Warwick, who also have their own drives. When needed, they are supplemented with toys purchased in bulk using the cash donations.
“Albany is taken care of first and after we stuff all of the bags with at least two toys per child, if there are any leftovers, they go to other counties. I will support them, but what makes a difference is in places like Bainbridge, is their local coordinator is a former Marine. That community was a success story this year because they did so well, they are almost totally self-sufficient and did not need our help,” he said.
French said it is helpful that in the other communities that Toys for Tots support, there are some good people who work hard each year in their respective communities to ensure the children who need toys, get them.
“We had a lot of organizations that wanted assistance from us, but we have the registration early in the year to help us to determine the number of toys we need and the dollars that need to be raised in order to meet the demand. There were no toys left over this year,” he said.
According to the website, www.toysfortots.org, 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 needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.
“Last year, for the 2008 campaign, we collected 20,416 toys and floam for a list of 6,660 kids. There was lot of floam received that was counted as a toy, but floam is more suitable for arts and crafts. We donated the leftovers to the local schools for their art classes and projects, which is the ideal use for it. There were really about 8,000 actual toys collected. We raised a total of $8,725 from the local community, received $12,000 from Toys “R” Us, and we spent $19,647. In the past, we had corporate donations, but last year we did not receive it and got all of that floam instead,” French said.
French said there were four Marines, including himself, who worked on the campaign full-time. He said he was lucky because the other three had just returned from Iraq and still had their mobilization orders, so they were left on active duty to help with Toys for Tots.
“It was also good that we had them because unlike last year, we did not receive any active duty operational support funding to bring reservists on active duty to support what is an official function of the Marine Corps Reserve. So, we had to do it with all active duty manpower this year,” he said.
French added that they ‘felt it’ this year by not being able to bring reservists in to help using the ADOS funding because it was cut, but like Marines, they got it done.
“I also want the community to know that we appreciate their efforts and the donations they give every year to support this program. The community really went out of their way to host events such as bringing more than 1,000 toys to the Battle Color Ceremony, which is our kickoff each year; donating to the Remaining Few Motorcycle Club’s toy run and the Stuff the Truck toy drive at Wal-Mart. We have always been able to count on Albany to carry the lion’s share of Toys for Tots in Southwest Georgia, and we are thankful for that,” he said.
French said it was rewarding to see the many smiling faces that came to collect their toys on distribution day. He also thanked the Salvation Army and the staff for their support in making it a success. There were several local businesses that collected toys at their office Christmas parties as well.
“You could tell they (families) were really thankful to be getting the toys and it made a difference in their Christmas, because for many, without Toys for Toys, there wouldn’t be anything to give their children. The people who donate to us really give great toys,” he said.
French said he will miss the camaraderie and the esprit de corps that exists within the Marine Corps, which is not duplicated anywhere else. He said having been on active duty his first six years in the Marine Corps, he realizes that there just aren’t people looking out for you like they do in the Marine Corps.
“Since I am coming off of active duty, the full time coordinator for the 2010 season will be 1st Sgt. James Watson, Inspector-Instructor. I am a reservist and came here on active duty orders for two years in the active reserve program, but on Wednesday (Jan. 27), I return to the selected Marine Corps Reserves and my civilian job as a Deputy U.S. Marshal at the federal courthouse,” French said. “It works out good for me being both a federal employee and a reservist.”
French has been with the U.S. Marshal Service since 2003 and will be assigned as the company gunnery sergeant at Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines in Montgomery, Ala., for his weekend drills once a month, which is where he was before coming on active duty.