CLEARFIELD COUNTY – Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, you see the bins in stores with the iconic train logo and Toys for Tots emblazoned across it.
The Marine Corps League Toys for Tots campaign is under way, collecting toys for children from newborn to age 13 in order to help their parents during a tough time who might not otherwise be able to provide much of a Christmas celebration for their families.
The program started in 1947 with Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks and his wife, Diane, who were looking for a place to donate toys for needy children.
Not finding anything, Hendricks started his own charity with the League in Los Angeles, distributing 5,000 toys that years.
Hendricks worked for Warner Bros. and got many celebrities involved, including his friend Walt Disney, who designed the first poster for Toys for Tots, including the iconic three-car train used by the organization to this day.
The Marine Corps League of Clearfield County is currently hard at work promoting Toys for Tots and collecting toys and donations for children in Clearfield County as well as Sykesville, Falls Creek and Brockway, which are all closer to Clearfield’s League than the one that cares for Jefferson County (based in Ebensburg).
John Hibner, spokesperson, said they will continue to collect toys until Nov. 30.
The goal is to serve every child in their area who is registered and make sure they have gifts to open on Christmas morning.
They do work with other organizations, such as the Salvation Army, to reduce overlap, and often take on the families that other organizations are unable to help.
“Every child registered will be taken care of,” he said.
Hibner explained that they collect new, unwrapped toys, and take them to a warehouse where they sort them by age groups and boys and girls.
Families who have registered are assigned numbers and pick-up times, two families every 15 minutes.
The gifts for that family are already bagged and ready to go home where the parents will wrap them and put them under the tree.
They aim for at least four toys per child as well as one or two educational gifts, such as a puzzle or activity book.
The hard part, Hibner said, is getting toys for older children from about 10-13, because they generally want more expensive things and are harder to find things for.
He said they will probably provide for 4,000 children this year, adding that they don’t care what the reason is that families apply, whether it is a lay-off, a single parent or the parents don’t work at all, whatever the reason, it is not the child’s fault.
And the downturn in the economy has had a noticeable effect, there are more children in need, he said, and the League receives fewer donations from corporate sponsors, so monetary donations either online or in-person are always welcome up to Christmas Day.
“It’s been pretty tough this year,” he said.
The League also holds three to four fundraisers each year, and that money goes directly to buying items for the kids, such as bikes and other big-ticket items.
To donate, or to register to receive gifts, Hibner said you can visit www.toysfortots.org or call 814-335-6338 or 814-761-2689 and if you get a recording, leave your name and phone number and someone will call you back as soon as they can.