Attention citizens of Horry County! As the year of our Lord 2014 ends, an American Holiday Tradition is once again coming upon us. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is now in its 57th year.
A history lesson is in order. Toys for Tots began in 1947 in Los Angeles when a group of Marine Reservists led by their commanding officer collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children on Christmas Eve. The idea came from the commanding officer’s wife.
During the fall of 1947, the C.O.’s wife handcrafted a Raggedy Ann doll and asked her husband to deliver the doll to an organization that would give it to a needy child at Christmas. When the C.O. determined that no organization existed, his wife told him to start one. He did. As a result, Toys for Tots was born.
The 1947 “mini Toys for Tots” campaign in Los Angeles was so successful that the Marine Corps adopted the concept and, in 1948, expanded it into a nationwide campaign. That year, Marine Corps Reserve units across the nation conducted Toys for Tots campaigns wherever a Reserve unit was located. Marines have conducted successful nationwide campaigns during the Christmas season every year since 1948.
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The Marine Commanding Officer was a reservist on weekends and his regular occupation was public relations director for Warner Brothers Studios. From this position, he was able to arrange considerable visibility and to gain important celebrity support for Toys for Tots over the ensuing years. In 1948, Walt Disney designed the Toys for Tots logo that continues to this day.
From 1947 until 1979, Marines collected and distributed new and used toys. On Reserve drill weekends during October, November, and December, Reserve Marines refurbished the used toys. Since 1980, Marines have distributed only new toys.
Three factors dictated this change. First, the Secretary of Defense’s Total Force Program, introduced in the 1970s, assigned the Reserve Marines a greater role in America’s defense posture. Therefore, Reservists had to dedicate every minute of weekend drill time to honing and polishing combat skills. No time was available to refurbish toys. Second, public awareness of the safety and health aspects of toys, which arose during the 1970s, made the distribution of used toys legally inadvisable. Third, distributing “hand me down” toys does not send the message Marines want to send to needy children. The goal is to deliver a message of hope, which will build self-esteem and in turn motivate needy children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. A shiny new toy at Christmas time is an ideal means of accomplishing that goal.
In the late 1980s, the Marine Corps determined that a private charitable organization was needed as an integral part of the overall national Toys for Tots program. Based on this need, the Secretary of Defense, in August 1991, authorized the Marine Corps to recognize and work with a charity committed to supporting Toys for Tots. The Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation became an operational organization in September 1991 and has been the fund raising and support organization for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program since that date.
The question to be answered at this time is how Toys for Tots works for Horry County. Grand Strand Detachment #873, of the Marine Corps League, has been authorized by the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, to be the Local Community Organization (LCO), and administer the U.S. Marine Reserve Toys for Tots Program for Horry County, South Carolina. The Marine Corps does two things that no other organization in the world does: It makes Marines and wins battles. However, some of the battles Marines are called on to fight are right here at home, in our own communities. Marines are truly “twice the citizen,” serving country and community in time of war and peace.
Horry County, however, does not have a Marine Corps Reserve unit to conduct the Toys for Tots Program. Fortunately, Horry County has an active and aggressive Marine Corps League Detachment. The Grand Strand Detachment, a community service organization composed of active, retired, former Marines and associate members decided to make the nationwide program work for Horry County.
Service to country still burns in the bellies of our members. While many members have lost a step or two to Father Time, there still is the desire to serve “God, family, country, and the Marine Corps” through community service like Toys for Tots.
The success of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program is entirely dependent on the active and enthusiastic involvement of community citizens by placing a new unwrapped toy in any of the toy collection boxes located in their communities, identified as “U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots.” These sites may be department stores, restaurants, churches, gasoline filling stations, real estate offices, automobile dealerships, and office buildings.
The contents of the boxes are collected periodically and transported to a central holding location such as Help for Kids, where the toys are examined and sorted by gender and age group. These toys are then distributed to needy children throughout Horry County.
The writer, who is vice commandant of the Marine Corps League Grand Strand Detachment, lives in Pawleys Island.