By Aether Van Dyke
The holiday season seems to bring out a spirit of giving in nearly everyone. Family members become more aware of each other during this time, people often feel the urge to help complete strangers, and parents are inclined to make sure their children have the best gifts. For many, the season is a time of beauty, and a time to look forward to. However, for many less fortunate families, the holiday season brings with it sorrow and anxiety over not being able to make sure their children have gifts. The Toys for Tots program has made sure that this sorrow does not become a reality for many families.
Toys for Tots is a national program, started in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks. Bill’s dream, along with the dreams of many involved in this program, was to see toys distributed to every family in need. Major Hendrick’s program was incredibly successful that first year, distributing toys to over 5000 children. The program’s enormous success within the first year then prompted the Marine Corps to adopt and expand it, leading to what we know today – The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
Toys for Tots is a nonprofit organization and is run by a dedicated staff of all volunteers. It operates primarily as a campaign between the months of October and December. During this time, various toy drives are set up in major businesses such as Walmart, Bass Pro Shop, and Build a Bear Workshops.
Though the program is a national program, each area runs its own campaign. The Walton and Okaloosa county’s campaign is directed by Campaign Coordinator Casey Tetman. Casey began her career with Toys for Tots as a volunteer about four years ago. With time, she advanced to become Co-Coordinator and eventually Coordinator of the program in our local area. Casey’s passion is to see enough toys collected each year to make sure no child goes without. When asked why Casey chose to get involved with Toys for Tots she said “I really love working with children and volunteering in general. I come from a family without a lot of money so Christmas holds a special place for me.”
Toys for Tots has faced a number of challenges. The program often gets confused with other nonprofit organizations and programs, and this can cause it to be difficult to truly express the mission of Toys for Tots. Finding volunteers is a challenge every year as well- as many people don’t realize the organization needs assistance. In spite of its difficulties, Toys for Tots has maintained gigantic success. Casey believes the greatest contributing factor to the success of the program has been the extreme generosity of the community and local businesses. Without them, very few if any children would have the opportunity to be part of this program.
This year, The Walton and Okaloosa campaign is expected to distribute toys to over 8000 children in the area. On 30A, LAH Real Estate is volunteering once again to collect Toys for Tots donations. From now until December 11th, you can make a donation at their 3648 West County Highway 30A location in Santa Rosa Beach. One thing is clear. This organization is making a huge impact on an individual, local and national level. Giving is the best gift!
For more information on the Toys for Tots program, you can visit their website at www.toysfortots.com. For information on local campaigns, you can search for “Fort Walton Beach” on their “Find a Local Campaign” tab or visit Emerald Coast Toys for Tots on Facebook.