Yesterday I ordered the materials to support a Toys for Tots drive for this holiday season. The charity is an official mission of the United States Marine Corps Reserve and covers all of the United States and its territories. In just a couple of weeks the bins and posters will arrive and the collecting can begin. I have always been impressed with the absolute professionalism and success the organization has every year. Hopefully my coworkers and all involved will help make 2012 a great year for the program, now celebrating its 55th year.
The Marines Toys for Tots Foundation got its start in Los Angeles in 1947. Major Bill Hendricks was living there with his wife working as the director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers. His wife wanted to donate a doll but could not find a place to do so. Hendricks had an idea to get fellow Marines to help collect items and then distribute them to needy children. They organized collections in bins outside Warner Brothers theaters and collected over 5,000 toys. The original objective was to “bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children.” With so much success, in 1948 they took the program national. With his influence at Warner Brothers, Hendricks was able to get lots of celebrity support. He even got Walt Disney to design the train logo and the original poster. Celebrity support has been a big part of Toys for Tots’ success over the years. Celebrities supporters have included: Bob Hope, John Wayne, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Sammy Davis Jr. John Glen, and Johnny Carson. First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama have served as national chairpersons. Nat King Cole recorded the original theme song for the national campaign that has been used and re-recorded over time.
From its start until 1979 the Marines collected both new and used toys. The Marine Reserves used down time during their training weekends to fix and refurbish the donated toys. Starting in 1980 only new toys would be accepted. The drives were limited to only locations where there was a Marine Corps Reserve unit. Since 1996 the reserves have expanded the campaign to include area without a reserve and to have collections with community volunteers. The program is one of the most successful charities around and maybe the most successful designed just for Christmas. Since its start over 500 million toys have been collected. In 2011 they collected over 16 million toys distributed to more than 7 million children. Toys for Tots is always included on rankings and lists including being named an Outstanding Non-profit Organization of the Year, Reader’s Digest Best Children’s Charity, getting 4 stars on Charity Navigator, and being listed on Forbes’ Gold Star List. If you decide to be giving this holiday season, please be sure to put Toys for Tots on the top of your list!