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Christina Stock Photo It takes a community to make children happy. The Toys for Tots program is looking for support.

Toys for Tots kicks off the season, bringing joy to the hearts of kids

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Do you want to join the Marine Corps? Sorry, you would have to go through bootcamp first — but, you can help them create a wonderful Christmas for local children who otherwise would not have a gift.

The Marine Corps is known throughout the U.S. for its Toys for Tots program, working together with Santa and his helpers in almost every community and county. The program has been organized since 2006 by the Sgt. Moses D. Rocha Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1287. It sponsors the Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots campaign for Chaves County, which includes Roswell, Midway, Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur.

The league chose its name after the first Marine from Roswell who got killed in action during the Gulf War, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during his second tour in Iraq in 2004. Rocha had graduated from Goddard High School in 1990 and joined the Marine Corps at age 24. His mother, Velina Sanchez, is an honorary member of the league and has supported the league and the Toys for Tots program since its first day.

The Toys for Tots boxes are now up at 48 businesses and organizations throughout town, including the Roswell Daily Record, to collect toys. Updated locations are listed on the Toys for Tots website.

With the kick-off of the program, the most urgent need is to find enough volunteers to stand in front of the stores who agreed to have collection boxes and, of course, for toys.

“Walmart and Kmart — who permitted us to have boxes there — is where we need volunteers,” Toys for Tots coordinator Alan Hartwell, a retired Marine, said. “They have a new manager and he asked us if we wanted to have a stuff-the-truck event. We are working on getting all the puzzle pieces together for that.”

When the news broke last year that Toys ‘R’ Us declared bankruptcy, the league members were worried. They had traveled every year to the Albuquerque location to use its special discounts for the Toys for Tots program.

“Toys ‘R’ Us was still generous in that — even with their going out of business — they still collected funds from last year and those were not part of their solvency,” Hartwell said. “Those funds were indeed donated to Toys for Tots and then some of the regular vendors for Toys ‘R’ Us got together with Toys for Tots and they bought some of the stock before they closed their stores. These companies are their own companies throughout the United States, they are in different areas. They just bought whatever toy Toys ‘R’ Us was liquidating at the time. They are passing those on, but we have to order them online and get them shipped to us prior to our distribution. Most offer free shipping. When we are doing these orders, we are placing $1,000 or better. Obviously, we have to have the funds to do so.” Monetary donations can be given online, as well.

Hartwell hopes that more toys are donated, for all age groups. Two of the groups that are usually covered with the most toys are boys ages 4 to 6 and 7 to 10. Girls and older children are the ones that the league has to use the monetary donations for. For newborns and toddlers, they ask for something to develop their skills with hand/eye coordination.

“We have a $30 limit per toy to purchase. Typically we try to get $15 per toy to get more for the amount of money we have. We buy items on sale — stores like Target have buy one, get one for free or half off. For me as a guy, I became quite the thrifty shopper come Christmas,” Hartwell said and laughed.

There are many other needs the league has. Alan Hartwell’s wife, Dawn Hartwell, is hands-on in organizing the details, which include the annual phone that gets activated for two to three months during the event. This year they had difficulties finding a phone service provider who would support the non-profit organization.

“I called Cellular Sales Verizon and I spoke with a young lady named Jessica Feliciano,” Dawn Hartwell said. “I explained what I was trying to do and asked if they could possibly wave the activation fee. Zero activation fee, she said, and she was sorry, she had to charge one-time $30, but they didn’t have enough notice this month. Next month, she said, they are going to donate the rest of it. And she asked to get a box to put up as well.” The phone number to request information remains the same because they use a forwarding system.

“Starbucks called me this morning and wants a box,” Dawn Hartwell said. “They have a new manager and the lady said she was a Blue-Star mom and her husband was a police chief. I belief they are from San Diego. She said, ‘I am very well acquainted with the Toys for Tots program, we would like to be participants. So we got them as a new one.”

There is a big change in registration and distribution procedures this year.

“People are (registering) in person and online — the way it worked in the past is that everybody showed up first thing in the morning and waited their turn — we are splitting them up,” Alan Hartwell said. “Half of the people will be assigned in the morning time and the other half of the group will be … assigned an afternoon time to shorten up the time that they have to spend standing in line. The registration form have been redone. The bottom of the form has a number on it which matches the number of the form that they fill out. We cut off the bottom form and hand it to them, which includes everything they need to bring including that form.”

“It should speed things up because you don’t have so many people crammed up at one time. There have been 1,200 people in line last year. They show up long before the mall opens though we tell them every year that the mall doesn’t open before 10 a.m. Some try to sneak in (to get free toys without registration), but it is computerized and some say they registered and they didn’t. Trust me, 1,954 names and I know them all,” Dawn Hartwell said.

Another concern about the waiting time are the children. “I tell everybody every year, be prepared. Parents, have toys for the kids and baby supplies,” Dawn Hartwell said.

The Sgt. Moses D. Rocha League Detachment No. 1287 is carrying on its tradition, also in memory of the members who have passed, such as Peter Hartwitch who had played Santa every year, Sam Martinez, “Sarge” Chester Mitchell, David E. Stock, Pearl Stoll and Richard Will.

The distribution of the toys will be on Dec. 15 at the Roswell Mall. The last toy pick-up is Dec. 9.

For more information, to volunteer or to request a box, call 575-347-1625 or visit roswell-nm.toysfortots.org.