A few years ago, the Marine Corps Toys For Tots program ran out of toys to give away to needy children at Christmas.
“That was when the economy was super bad,” said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Ray Bael who has been actively involved in this decades-old program of the Marine Corps.
This philanthropic project which was launched just after World War II is national in scope and is divided into districts that take care of local toy collections and distributions.
“Our district is San Joaquin County,” where the toys are distributed by different organizations to the needy in the local communities, Bael said.
“We get a lot of toys from a lot of organizations,” he added.
One of those groups that donate toys every year for Toys For Tots is the Nuts & Bolts Car Club in Manteca which recently marked their annual toy drive during the weekly Wednesday breakfast get-together at Mountain Mike’s on North Main Street in Manteca. Some 50 members braved the freezing early morning temperatures to bring brand-new toys to the pizza restaurant for Bael and two other Marine Corps members to pick up. One of them was Sgt. Joseph Meyers who is coordinator of the San Joaquin County District Toys for Tots. He was accompanied by Staff Sgt. Bronson who is also one of those involved in the program.
“There’s a lot of work involved,” Bael said of the Marine Corps annual holiday gift-giving project.
There was a time when Marines themselves distributed the toys to the needy children in addition to conducting the toy drive.
“We used to do it that way, but it takes too much time. There are thousands of people that want toys,” Bael said.
Today, Toys For Tots partners with many local organizations and other non-profit groups which take care of the logistics involved in identifying which families are in need of the toys for the children, and then take charge of the distribution.
“It’s easier for them to distribute (the toys),” Bael said.
While local groups like the Nuts & Bolts Car Club of Manteca are big contributors to Toys For Tots, Bael said they also get hefty donations from big-time corporations.
“The biggest one is Toys R Us; they donate millions. This year, they gave us $25 million. Another is wineries such as Bronco Winery. Mattel donates quite a bit. Small groups like the car club – we get a lot of donations.”
Weeks before Christmas, Toys for Tots toy collection barrels are placed at various locations such as in front of stores like Walmart in Manteca. As the containers get filled up with donated articles, Marine volunteers pick them up. From there, various organizations and groups pick up toys that they need to give away to the families on their lists.
Groups like the Manteca Nuts & Bolts Car Club donate some big-ticket items like brand-new children’s bicycles. The group’s Toys for Tots annual toy drive is the brainchild of member Al Tribuzio who said they usually get two or three bike donations each year. This year, he and his wife, Sherri, donated four bicycles. Some members brought two or more gifts for the toy drive. They can donate as many as they want.
“It’s just a good group of guys and they have fun doing it; it makes them feel good,” said Tribuzio, an avid car enthusiast.
“Every year it’s good,” Tribuzio said of their toy drive. “I know the Marines appreciate it, and I know they do a good job. It’s a good cause. We’re not curing cancer, but we’re putting smiles on kids’ faces.”