Marines kick off Toys for Tots

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

MCLB-ALBANY, Ga. -- 'Tis the season.

Area Marine reservists kicked off this year's Toys for Tots campaign during a news conference at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany Thursday afternoon.

"It has been a tradition to collect toys for needy children," said Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth R. Starkey, assistant to the program's

coordinator. "Please help make a child's Christmas great this year."

Toys for Tots is the largest Department of Defense outreach program. It serves as an avenue for the U.S. Marine Corps, charity organizations and the community to provide toys for underprivileged children.

The program collects new, unwrapped toys from October through December and distributes them as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. Officials are asking individuals wishing to contribute to put a toy up to $15 in value in a Toys for Tots bin. Bins are expected to be available at several businesses throughout the city including the Albany Mall, Sams Club, Kmart, Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

"It will be in most places that are visible," Starkey said.

Last year, the local program collected 28,000 toys. This year, officials are aiming to collect 30,500.

"This is the largest outreach program (for the Department of Defense), and it keeps us in good contact with the community," Starkey said. "I've never met a Marine that didn't feel proud to do this."

There are certain criteria families are expected to meet to be eligible to receive toys from the program. Information on the criteria is available at the Salvation Army, as well as the organization's website.

"We are hoping to reach out to families that might not know about it," said Faye Turney, social services manager with the Salvation Army. "The economy is really bad right now, so I see people across my desk that I never thought I would see.

"This is about the children; all children deserve a good Christmas."

Those wishing to sign up to receive toys need to register at the Salvation Army from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays Oct. 25-Nov. 5.

There is no cost for businesses to obtain a collection bin, Turney said.

The Toys for Tots program began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children, an effort that resulted in a nationwide campaign a year later. To date, the program has been able to distribute more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children.

"In the Marine Corps, it doesn't matter where you are, (an installation) is never separate from the community," said 1st Lt. Kyle Thomas, public affairs officer for MCLB-Albany.

The Salvation Army is located on Second Avenue in downtown Albany.