Coordinators and volunteers with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program on Okinawa will be working overtime during the holiday season to extend the reach of the 60-year-old charity in the region. Reserve Marines, activated specifically for Toys for Tots support, began their 2007 toy collection drive during ceremonies at post exchanges on Camp Foster and Kadena Air Base Nov. 3.
This year, program officials added Thailand and Guam to their area of responsibility, according to Staff Sgt. Suzette Smith, a coordinator with Okinawa's Toys for Tots. The volunteers and reserve Marines collected toys for needy children in Okinawa Prefecture and the Philippines in previous years.
Smith hopes Marines will be able to personally deliver donations to Thailand and Guam as done in Operation Goodwill, which delivers toys and clothes to children of the Philippines during the holiday season. "The primary goal of Toys for Tots is to deliver, through a shiny new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to needy youngsters that will motivate them to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders," according to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation Web site. Last year the organization collected approximately 10,500 toys, according to Sgt. Shamala Henson, a coordinator for Okinawa's Toys for Tots. She hopes the collection drive can collect at least 11,000, especially since they want to provide for children in two more countries this year. "I want to break last year's goals and make sure every child gets four toys like last year," said Henson.
Program coordinators also want to raise awareness of the Ho Ho Express, a campaign-closing event intended to collect as many donations as possible during the final moments of the toy drive. The Ho Ho Express is scheduled for Dec. 15, the last day of the drive. A bus will visit each collection box on island and program personnel will collect all remaining toys. The event doubled the amount of collected toys in 2005 with help from American Forces Network radio broadcasters, who constantly aired updates on the bus' location and upcoming stops. The program needs toys for all ages of children.
Toys for pre-teens and young teenagers are typically in short supply. "People should remember that there are kids that are 13 and that's usually the age group we lack the most," Smith said. Coordinators running Okinawa's program have a lot of events for this year's drive and need plenty of volunteers to help them. Volunteers can help with tasks such as sorting toys or promoting donations by making an appearance in public with their dress blues. Maj. Bill Hendricks and a group of fellow reserve Marines in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children during the first Toys for Tots program 60 years ago.
Officials plan to continue the mission as long as there are needy children around the world. Merry Christmas to all and to all a big "HOORAH".
Larry Westfall is a frequent traveler to Bangkok - the City of Angels - and owner of Bangkok Accommodations
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