Making sure kids have a ‘toyful’ Christmas
The Marines are ready to help Santa with their Toys for Tots program
By Christina Stock
There will be boots on the ground to make sure that children whose families are experiencing financial hardship this year still have a brand-new toy this Christmas.
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The Toys for Tots foundation is a Marine Corps Reserve-hosted foundation and a 501(c) 3 organization. In Roswell, the members of the Moses D. Rocha Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1287, have organized the event since 2007. The league was founded in 2006.
Its members have been bringing the iconic Toys for Tots boxes to businesses and organizations throughout town, including the Roswell Daily Record, and they will be outside Walmart every weekend until distribution day, with the exception of Black Friday.
Anybody who wants to help can drop off a new unwrapped toy at any of the drop-off stations, which are listed on the league’s webpage. At press time, 37 businesses, organizations and churches have signed up.
The league chose its name after the first Marine from Roswell killed in action during the Gulf War, 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.
Spokesperson and organizer Dawn Hartwell said that last year, 535 children received 2,495 toys.
“This year, the Dexter Fire Department will help us doing the Dexter distribution,” Hartwell said. “They are also going to help us with volunteers. Anybody who would like to volunteer can find the information on the website. It should be up on Sunday (today).
“There were kids that had no access to Toys for Tots because they couldn’t get to us. They don’t have transportation to get up here. So we’ll be able to help more kids in Dexter by doing it this way,” Hartwell said.
The children, who need to be registered online by their parents or legal guardians, are separated into six age groups, 0-2, 3-5, 6-7, 8-10, 11-14 and 15-plus. “Our older kids are always the ones we tend to get the less amount for,” Hartwell said. “That is our hardest group. The 3-5 year olds, we have no problems getting toys for. Even 6 to 7. Those two age groups we get tons of toys for, because that’s what people mostly look at when they go to the store.
“The infants and toddlers have not been bad,” Hartwell said. “We’ve seemed to have gotten the message across they need toys too. I’ve tried through the years to stress that we need cognitive toys, something that stimulates their hearing, sight and hand/eye coordination. Their thinking process. Those types of toys we look for to give out to those kids, because they are learning at that stage.
“Mom and dad, when they are in dire straights, they don’t have the money to go out and buy those types of toys for their kids,” Hartwell said.
Hartwell emphasizes that the toys have to be new unwrapped toys. “I can’t tell you how often I had to unwrap stuff because somebody wrapped it. I love that they thought enough to do that, but we don’t know what is in there. I need to know if it’s acceptable and suitable,” she said.
“Something that was a no-no in the past were toy guns,” Hartwell said. “We bounced back and forth with that one for a while. National got together and decided, as long as they have orange safety tips, we’re good to go. Replicas, like an air soft gun that looks too real, we can’t accept.”
Monetary donations are welcome, because that way the organizers can buy specifically for the age group that needs it most; however, gift cards or clothes are not accepted.
There are several new implementations for families who want to register their children. “Last year, we split them into two groups,” Hartwell said. “We had a morning group and we had an afternoon group, and that seemed to work much better. We used to have long lines and understandably, kids would get cranky.
“There will be a new location for distribution on Dec. 14,” Hartwell said. Registered parents and/or legal guardians will receive an email with the time and location of the toy distribution. The deadline for registration is Dec. 7. Children must be present at the time of the distribution and the parents/guardians must bring ID for themselves and documentation for the registered child on the day of distribution.
The Marine Corps League is also carrying on the Toys for Tots tradition 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, Richard Will and Marvin Smith.
For more information, visit roswell-nm.toysfortots.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 575-347-1625.