Experiencing the joy on a child’s face as they open that special gift Christmas morning is one of the best moments of the holidays. For 73 years, the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program has brought smiles to millions of children across the United States.
Local Coordinating Officer, Karen Tannreuther, has directed the program in Butler and Warren counties for 19 years. She shares, “We are always so thankful for the tremendous community support we receive that helps so many families who otherwise could not afford gifts for their children. In 2019, we were able to provide 65,972 toys to 13,048 children.”
Every year of Karen’s tenure has been successful, but the impact of the pandemic is a concern this year. She explains, “The COVID-19 crisis has affected our program severely this year. We have fewer collection sites and have not been able to fundraise or shop sales like we usually do, so our stock is low. My biggest fear is not getting enough toys. I have never had to tell a family no and I don’t want this year to be the first.”
Toys for Tots was formed in 1947 after Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks was inspired by his wife Diane’s donation of her handcrafted dolls to needy children one Christmas. Seeing how important community engagement was for helping others less fortunate, he directed all Marine Reserve sites to implement a Toys for Tots campaign. Today there are more than 800 campaigns coordinated by both civilians and Marine units collecting 18 million toys for seven million children each year.
Officially, the local campaign will collect toys through December 15 at various sites identified on their website. Unofficially, they will continue to accept donations at their Middletown office right up to Christmas Day. Last minute donations help children in foster care and families who have experienced a fire, an emergency or find themselves unexpectedly in a shelter.
During the month of November, families apply for assistance and are accepted based on financial need. Approved applicants are notified in mid-December to arrange a time to ‘shop’ at the distribution site. Each parent, guardian or family member is able to personally choose the perfect gift for their special young person.
“All toys that are donated in our community, stay in our community,” explains Karen. “We need unwrapped toys, books and other gift items suitable for newborns through age 17,” she adds.
In addition to donating toys, community members and businesses can volunteer, provide a collection site, donate money and host events to support the campaign. Karen shares, “I really love it when other kids get involved. Some donate their birthday gifts so another child can have a wonderful holiday.”
All the local staff volunteer their time. Karen is often asked why she continues to do this after so many years and at such a busy time of the year. She reflects, “It’s all worth it when a mom thanks you and tells you if it had not been for Toys for Tots, her children wouldn’t have had Christmas.”
She adds, “Please consider Toys for Tots as your charity this year. You can bring a smile to a child this holiday season.”
Toys for Tots
4420 Lewis Street, Middletown 45044