The spirit of Christmas- it’s such a beautiful thing, isn’t it? People change this time of year. They give a little more freely, feel a little more deeply, and love a little more willingly. The magic of the season can really affect you if you let it.
I have been blessed to have celebrated Christmas the way every child deserves. There was never a doubt that Santa wouldn’t come to our house. I always had my generous share of gifts waiting for me under the tree. Maybe that’s why I have so much Christmas spirit these days. There was no reason for me not to want to spread good cheer. I was never let down; I never thought I’d been bad enough for Santa not to show.
Aside from the glutenous indulgences, sparkly wrapped presents, and festive tunes filling the airways (check out Sons of Serendip’s new single O Holy Night), all of which I love to no end, my newest favorite seasonal tradition is volunteering with Toys For Tots.
Three Decembers ago, in an attempt to become more involved with the community, I followed my fellow co-workers to the Toys For Tots warehouse for the Orlando Chapter. I’d donated new toys before but I’d never fully understood how the operation worked, as I assume many people do not. Besides, how can I turn down the opportunity to volunteer with an organization run by the Marines? It was time to put that Christmas cheer to good use.
If you don’t know, in the months of October-December, Toys For Tots collects new, unwrapped toys to give to children across the country. In 1995, it was named an official activity and mission of the U.S. Marine Corps. Thus far, the Toys For Tots Program has distributed over 469 million toys to less fortunate children across the country.
The TFT warehouses, which are usually empty supermarkets, receive shipments upon shipments of donations daily comes December. Each box of toys is sorted and separated into the proper gender and age group. Used or damaged toys, weapons (even plastic), clothing, and food are not accepted. Toys For Tots will donate any usable items that they can’t accept to other charities who do as to limit the amount of waste.
As the toys are separated, they are arranged out onto the warehouse floor by gender and age. At times, the warehouses have shelves which allow for easy placement of all the toys. This year the old K-Mart location is completely bare inside requiring the toys to be displayed in TFT boxes and arranged in rows. Once all the toys are placed, it’s easy to see that the age groups in need of most donations are the babies (0-1) and teens (13-15).
After a few weeks of the toy sorting, it’s time to play Santa. The families who have preregistered for toys are given a date and time to come retrieve their bundles. Volunteers have filled bags for the kids based on gender and age. These usually include one big toy, one small toy, a stuffed animal, and possibly a craft. When it’s time to hand out the toys, a volunteer will grab a bag for each child on the family’s list. There’s no requesting toys. Each child is surprised by the contents of the bag. The larger items such as bikes are controlled by a lottery system.
Family day isn’t my favorite because I don’t want to see the people we’ve worked so hard to please. I’d prefer to stay naive about our hard work and people’s generosity. I’ve seen parents all decked out in jewels playing on their iPhones and they’re standing in line to pick up free toys for their kids. I’ve seen parents who bring their children and then let them look inside the bags to see their gifts. I’ve seen people request different toys because what was in the bag wasn’t good enough for their child.
But I’ve also met people whom are genuinely appreciative of the TFT program. You can hear it in their voices, the plea for help wrapped in ribbon of gratitude. Without Toys For Tots, their children wouldn’t have received presents at all. They wouldn’t have had a Christmas. You realize then that this cause is worthy of your time and assistance. You see the children light up when they receive their bag of toys. You meet people who have won the bike lottery and exchange it for a different gift because their son already has a bike and another child should have the opportunity to own one.
This December I’m grateful for my ample free time. I’ve volunteered every day I was able, making my days worthwhile. Many of the women and men I meet who are connected to Toys for Tots don’t receive paychecks for their time, yet spend full days working on its mission. They’re always somehow connected to the Marines. Then you get volunteers from other companies such as Disney who willingly spend hours of their time sorting toys.
I highly suggest looking to help out your local TFT chapter next December. It’ll give you a new appreciation for the Christmas Season.
For more information on Toys For Tots, click here.
Unsure about what items are unacceptable or what to buy for the older kids? Check out the FAQ section here.
Semper Fi, my friends. And a very, merry Christmas to you!
56. Love’s in our hearts on Christmas from NSync’s “Love’s in Our Hearts on Christmas Day”