$n$ THE WEEKLY - Mission possible: Toys for Tots

The annual campaign to collect Christmas toys for Valley children begins today

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The local Toys for Tots campaign today will kick off its annual holidays collection of toys and donations to serve families from Walla Walla to Dayton on Christmas.

This is my fifth year with Toys for Tots, and last year was our biggest year in numbers of toys and money donated, as well as volunteers and distribution. The campaign collected 1,711 toys that were distributed to 792 local children.

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation office had warned local coordinators around the country that donations in 2010 were going to be down and to be prepared. I can honestly say that Walla Walla was not one of those communities, and I feel confident that this year we will again be strong.

The program's goal is simple: to help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas. The mission is to collect new, unwrapped toys during November and December and distribute them as Christmas gifts. It all began in 1947 in Los Angeles with the Marine Reserve unit there collecting and distributing 5,000 toys to local children.

The seed was planted, and this year there are 730 local coordinators across the nation and on overseas military bases.

Currently we have 21 businesses from College Place to Dayton collecting toys from Nov. 1 to Dec. 12. We distribute toys to children newborn to 18 years old.

This year Toys for Tots has also started a national literacy program and we are distributing books through our campaign with the assistance of the local Early Learning Coalition.

Locally we work with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, supplying toys for all their families during the holiday.

We will also partner with the local schools, medical centers, the YWCA, Children's Home Society, the farm labor homes and the Salvation Army to reach out to families in need.

There are many ways you can help the program.

You can donate a new, unwrapped toy at a collection site or help us with toy collecting, sorting or distribution.

A great, fun way to collect toys that makes a big difference is through a business or family holiday party.

Some businesses also offer creative ways to participate. Walla Walla's Book & Game at 38 E. Main St., for example, is giving 20-percent discounts for each item bought and donated to Toys for Tots.

And for the third year in a row City Slickers, at 14 W. Main St., will hold a "Cut-a-thon" on Dec. 4. Men, women and children who bring in an new, unwrapped toy will receive a free hair cut. City Slicker stylist donate their time, and last year their efforts collected 50 toys.

This year, on Dec. 3 at Land Title Plaza, at Main and First Avenue in Walla Walla, local Marine Corps Sgt. Jesus Granados and I will collect toys and donations from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Stop by thank our local Marines and find out more about Toys for Tots.

For recipients, the program works on the honor system, with no need to provide proof of income or otherwise prove that you need assistance. If you need help this year for your children, you will get toys if you apply. Families in Walla Walla and Columbia counties can apply for toys Nov. 14-245 at St. Vincent de Paul, 308 W. Main St., Walla Walla. Applications also are available Nov. 28 through Dec. 9 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 323 Catherine St., Walla Walla. We ask each family to only apply once at one of the locations.

I am proud and honored to be a part of the Toys for Tots program for the Walla Walla area. But my greatest pleasure is living in such a giving community that supports children and Christmas.

For more information on the local Toys for Tots campaign visit http://walla-walla-wa.toysfortots.org

Beth Swanson is Toys for Tots local coordinator and founder of The Mom's Network in Walla Walla. She can be reached at 301-7471 or bethswanson@charter.net.

Collection sites:

Walla Walla

Book & Game - 38 E. Main St.

Community Bank - 28 E. Alder St.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center - 401 W. Poplar St.

City Slickers - 14 W. Main St.

AAA Washington - 1361 Dalles-Military Road

NAPA - 1830 E. Isaacs Ave.

Tumac Machinery - 3037 E. Melrose St.

O'Brien Chevrolet - 1395 Dalles-Military Road

Walla Walla Bread Co. - 225 E. Main St.

Whitman College Bookstore - Reid Campus Center - Boyer and Park streets.

John L. Scott - 10 S. 4th St.

Walla Walla Sweets - 109 E. Main St.

Legacy Ford - 11 N. Colville St.

Oil Haus, Tiki Teriyaki, Mama Mia Pasta - Kenwood and Rose streets

College Place

Inland Cellular - 1605 S.E. Meadowbrook Blvd.

Waitsburg

Waitsburg Hardware & Mercantile - 134 Main St.

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