Marine Toys for Tots is as symbolic to Christmas as Santa himself. The image of Marines wearing their dress blues uniform, handing a gift to a child in need, is an iconic sight that many of us have seen in person or through ads on the television. Without the help and generosity of time and resources that the Marine Corps has invested into this cause, millions of children over decades might have gone without gifts at Christmas. It’s an amazing charity and one that the Marine Corps has honored with a direct mission from the Commandant for many years.
With an act that has brought so much joy to children all over the world, it’s interesting to look back and see how this wonderful tradition began. All the way back in 1947, that’s 72 Christmases ago, there was a reservist Marine, Major Bill Hendricks, who lived in LA. Major Hendricks’ wife, Diane, had made some dolls and wanted her husband to donate them to children in need that would not receive a gift that year. However, when Major Hendricks looked for a place to drop the dolls off and put them in a good home, he could not find an organization that did such a thing. Bringing the dolls back defeated, Diane suggested that he start his own organization. Major Hendricks thought that was a great idea and he gathered up the rest of the reservist Marines to help him collect toys for children in need that Christmas.
For the first year and with short notice, the Marines were incredibly successful in collecting 5000 toys that went to the children of Los Angeles. It was so successful in fact, it garnered attention from the top of the Marine Corps. The very next year they launched a nationwide community action project as the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program. Reserve Marines all over the nation began collecting, fixing, and wrapping presents for children at their reserve centers.
Major Hendricks’ role in the history of the campaign was not over there. Major Hendricks was a reserve Marine so, he also held another job. He just so happened to work in public relations for Warner Brothers Studio. His position with Warner Brothers made him a lot of famous friends; one of them being Walt Disney himself. When Disney heard about the charity he offered to make the promotional posters for them. The first poster that was made included the trains that are now synonymous with the Toys for Tots logo.
For years Disney made the promotional posters and included many favorite cartoon characters like Mickey, Donald, and Bugs Bunny. To this day, they work with the charity and help in bringing gifts to children at Christmas. It’s pretty amazing that they have had a working relationship since the inception of the program.
Disney isn’t the only famous person to grace the Marine Toys for Tots program. Since the program started, stars like John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Ann Margaret, Sammy Davis, Doris Day, Johnny Carson, George Strait, Tim Allen, and Clint Eastwood (to name a few) have helped in spreading the word about the Toys for Tots program. It has also been a tradition that the First Ladies of our nation have taken part in starting with Nancy Reagan followed by Barbara Bush, Michelle Obama, and now First Lady Melania Trump. It’s no wonder with such positive celebrity press that the charity has grown throughout the years to continue to provide toys to children in need.
As successful as the charity has been in giving over 313 million toys to more than 151 million children since 1947, it has been met with challenges as well. Deployments, especially in the early 2000’s took a lot of the reserve Marines away. However, the foundation was able to overcome this with gaining civilian volunteers. Starting in 2008, there was a huge economic crisis, but the Toys for Tots program still exceeded expectations. Even going into 2011 and 2012, when the economy was still in a rough place, the program brought in their largest revenues to that date with $252 million in 2011 and $269 million in 2012. There have been terrorist attacks and national disasters and the Toys for Tots stepped in and were there to make sure those children affected by the events had a new toy during such stressful times on our nation. The dedication the program has shows how important it is for them to bring joy to needy children in our communities.
Their mission statement says, “To collect new, unwrapped toys during Christmas time each year and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. To provide needy children with hope and motivation to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders.” Reading these words perfectly sums up why the Marine Corps takes this cause so seriously. It sounds like it is right along the lines of the Marine Corps values that they live their lives by. By making a child’s Christmas a little sweeter, the Marines are serving the youth of their nation by helping those children believe in something. They might not be Santa Clause, but you could argue that they are pretty close.
Feature image courtesy of Kristen Wong, US Marine Corps)