Across America, the weeks leading up to Christmas make up the busiest shopping season of the year, especially for toys. But there are millions of children whose families can't afford a shopping trip to the toy store. So, since 1948, Marine Corps Reserve Units throughout the nation have collected and distributed toys to needy kids. This year, the nation's largest toy store chain is helping to sponsor the Toys for Tots campaign.
In the wintertime, Toys “R” Us is full of shoppers of all ages and some are not thinking only about buying for themselves. "Every time I give some kids some toys, I feel very happy," says one child at a Toys "R" Us location in Fairfax, Virginia. "I feel proud for donating money to poor kids because they have nothing and we should thank God that we have these things,” another adds. "Making others happy would make me also happy. I feel like very good inside," says another young shopper, getting into the spirit of the season.
"We're actually taking live donations in the store on the weekends with Marines manning our donation bins at the front of the store," says store manager Norm Mehta. "We're also doing a donation program at our register lanes where, through a register slip, the person can donate one, five, ten dollars or any amount of money. That money will directly go to Toys for Tots."
The 2004 Toys for Tots campaign that began in November will run through January 7. Mr. Mehta says public participation, so far, is very promising. "We've raised almost $3,200 in donations from our customers just in two and one-half weeks," he says. "It's very cute, oftentimes, when the children get involved. So they learn about sharing and giving and things like that. The parents also like to demonstrate that. And we've been very fortunate that our guests in this area are very supportive to the program."
Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Nicole Patzer is especially pleased that children are getting involved in the campaign. “That's so important," she says. "We've been encouraging people to bring their kids inside the store and teach them to pick out a new and unwrapped toy that they would like to give to a needy child. One of the things that's so rewarding for us at Toys "R" Us is that we receive that handwritten thank-you card from a young child just saying. 'Thank you so much. You've just made this holiday season better for me.’"
Toys "R" Us has already donated a million dollars worth of toys to the campaign, according to Toys for Tots spokesman Gunnery Sergeant Rubio. "The Marines are very excited to be involved with Toys "R" US," he says. "It's a great partnership. It's basically a dream team! We want to beat last year's goal of 15 million toys. And we think we're going to do that."
That's a far cry from the 5,000 toys collected in the first toy drive, more than 50 years ago. But what has not changed is the campaign's mission: to make the Christmas holiday happier for children in need.