Toys for Tots

By Craig Reed

little girl holding present by Christmas tree
Adobe Stock Photo by Anastasiya

10,392 — That’s the number of Lane County children who received toys from the Marine Toys for Tots program in 2019.

Scott Boylan is an active-duty Marine stationed in Springfield and coordinator of the toy program. He expects that number to jump for the 2020 Christmas season because of lost jobs, homes, and properties due to the COVID- 19 pandemic and the recent Holiday Farm Fire.

The goal of Marine Toys for Tots is to help bring the joy of Christmas and send a message of hope to America’s less fortunate children through the gift of a new toy.

The program has scheduled distribution dates and times in December for Eugene- Springfield, Cottage Grove, Florence, and Oakridge.

Another program, Sharing Among Neighbors Toy Appeal (S.A.N.T.A.), will distribute toys this month to communities in western Lane County.

“We’re a good program for the county,” says Leo Robb, a member of the Toys for Tots boards for both Lane County and Oakridge. “It helps everybody. There is definitely a need. There are a lot of single-parent families and low-income families who need some support and hope at Christmas.”

In past years, people could come into Toys for Tots distribution centers and shop off the shelves for their children. Because of the pandemic, this year will be a drive-thru experience. The toys will be categorized by age and by boy or girl, and will be distributed per request by volunteers to each car.

“We’re trying to cut down on the people coming in,” Leo says. “It’s going to be a new process. We’ll make it work.”

The gift or gifts total about $30 per child. If the exact toy on a parent’s wish list isn’t available, the closest similar item is given. Parents can then take home, wrap and put the gifts under their tree, making it a traditional Christmas for children.

Volunteers from Oakridge and Springfield gather at the Mrs. Santa in Jail fundraiser for the Toys for Tots program. Mike Cameron, right, and Leo Robb, second from right, are members of the Oakridge board for Toys for Tots. The event was held in the parking lot of Ray’s Food Market in Oakridge.

“It’s not a guarantee that we can fulfill every wish list because we’re not always sure what we’ll have and what kids want, but we’ll do our best to match it,” Scott says. “It’s best that a family gets some Christmas rather than none at all.”

The 22-year Marine who has been involved in the toy program for the past 10 years says the effort is well worth it.

“To see the smiles, the joy, and the gratitude in the parents makes it all worthwhile,” Scott says.

The Toys for Tots program was started by a Marine family in 1947. Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks was asked by his wife, Diane, to deliver some dolls she made to an agency that supported children in need. When Bill reported back that he couldn’t find such an organization, the couple started Toys for Tots. That Christmas, Bill, and the Marines in his reserve unit in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys.

The success led to a directive that all Marine reserve sites implement a Toys for Tots program, creating a national community project beginning in 1948.

Leo, a retired U.S. Forest Service engineer who worked out of the Middle Fork Willamette Ranger District in Westfir, says the Toys for Tots program in Oakridge started in the early 1980s. At the time, used toys were collected and refurbished before being distributed. In 1991, the Oakridge program partnered with the Marines program, and the focus transitioned to new toys.

Program coordinators anticipate the need this year will be greater but donations fewer because of the pandemic, the economic situation for many individuals and businesses, and the recent rash of wildfires.

Coordinators still hoped for the best as they put out collection boxes in October, held annual events such as Stuff the Bus and toy drives at different stores, and sent out written requests for donations.

While the Toys for Tots program only distributes toys, any food or clothing collected during these events are passed on to other nonprofit organizations that distribute those items. Any leftover toys are given to other nonprofits to distribute before Christmas Day.

The Sharing Among Neighbors Toy Appeal program has toys for children in the Fern Ridge area of western Lane County for the past 27 years. In 2019, S.A.N.T.A. provided Christmas gifts to about 500 children in 175 families. Each child received a gift or two, a book, a stuffed animal, a stocking stuffer, and a winter coat.

Toys for Tots

Distribution sites and times:

  • December 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, 2625 U.S. Hwy. 101, Florence
  • December 12, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Willamette National Forest Building Complex, 3106 Pierce Parkway, Springfield
  • December 12, 4 to 6 p.m. Oakridge Fire Dept., 47592 OR Hwy. 58, Oakridge
  • December 13, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Willamette National Forest Building Complex, 3106 Pierce Parkway, Springfield
  • December 13, noon to 4 p.m. South Lane County Fire & Rescue, Cottage Grove Station, 233 Harrison Street, Cottage Grove

Sharing Among Neighbors Toy Appeal

Distribution site and time:

  • December 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Veneta Elementary School 88131 Territorial Hwy., Veneta