The wonder of the season is best captured upon the face of a child unwrapping a gift Christmas morning. Little faces, aglow with delight, celebrating the holiday with family and eager to discover what surprises await them under the tree. Every child deserves such excitement, and Toys for Tots strives to ensure no children are left without something to unwrap Christmas morning.
“The basic mission of the Marine Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys and distribute those toys to less fortunate children at Christmas,” states Sergeant Joshua Hancock, coordinator for Yellowstone County Toys for Tots. “Through the gift of a new toy, TFT helps bring the joy of Christmas and send a message of hope to America's less fortunate children.”
For decades, the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation has operated campaigns in regions across the nation, and are supported by nearly 800 local Toys for Tots coordinators such as Sergeant Hancock. Now, as one of the active duty Marines involved in the local Yellowstone County campaign, Sgt. Hancock is embarking upon his third year with the foundation.
“I began in 2018 as an Assistant Coordinator,” he says, “and took over the coordinator role at the end of the campaign in 2019”. Sgt. Hancock’s 2020 TFT campaign began organizing collection boxes in late September.
“Our main focus is obtaining as many toy donations as possible. We have collection boxes all over the region, including Billings, Laurel, and Lockwood. We target high traffic areas where they will attract the most exposure and community support as possible.”
Prior years have seen as many as 160 collection locations with TFT boxes. However, Hancock wants to scale back this year and focus on the efficiency of collection boxes rather than just quantity.
“By narrowing down our locations, the collections will be easier to manage,” he explains. “We want to ensure each and every donation is properly managed and returned to us by the deadline.” All boxes must be collected by December 12th, so donations should be placed prior to this deadline.
The age range for donations includes children 0-18. Donations are appreciated for any child, yet there is a specific group who is often overlooked.
“Teens are hard to shop for,” admits Sgt. Hancock. “We typically have far fewer teen items available for families than items for younger children. I think people hear ‘Toys for Tots’ and think we only serve small children.” He encourages those making donations to consider items that teens may enjoy, such as headphones, Bluetooth speakers, art supplies, or even makeup.
Once items have been collected, a distribution event is organized for parents to receive donations. This year, the distribution will take place from December 14th-December 19th.
“Parents fill out applications on our website to receive donations. Their applications are reviewed, and if approved, they visit our distribution center on the specified dates and times to ‘shop’ for items. Each parent is verified at the event, to ensure they are one of the selected applicants. Santa’s Helpers (volunteers) then help those parents shop the ‘Toy Store’ based on the children’s ages and genders.”
Last year, the Yellowstone Valley Marine Toys for Tots Program campaign provided for over 1,000 families, granting gifts to 3,700 children in the local community. More than 65,00o toys were distributed.
If you wish to contribute to the Toys for Tots campaign, you can donate new, unwrapped items at a collection box, contribute a monetary donation, or volunteer.
“We are always looking for motivated individuals and companies to assist with sorting, organizing, and set-up of the toy store in the month of November,” adds Sgt. Hancock. “We are also looking for helpers to walk families through the store during distribution December 14th – 19th.”
For more information, please visit billings-mt.toysfortots.org or call 406.970.0671