USMC Toys for Tots: The many, the caring, the giving

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I was raised in a giving family that just happened to have a connection to the U.S. Marine Corps. My dad is a Marine (you never stop being one) and we were always involved in Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots in Seattle. When I moved to Walla Walla with my husband and realized that we did not have a local coordinator, I applied.

I knew I could not do it by myself and that it would have to be a family and community effort. Now, I am beginning my sixth year with the campaign to collect gifts for children over the holidays.

This year there are 22 local businesses from Dayton to College Place that volunteered to collect toys and monetary donations.

Here in the Walla Walla Valley our requests for gifts have increased each year, but so have our donations. Several businesses promote Toys for Tots with advertising and offer discounts for toys donated to the campaign.

At company holiday parties or family get-togethers, guests are asked to donate a gift to Toys for Tots instead of a white elephant gifts for each other.

These may seem like small suggestions, but creative ideas are why we can supply toys for every request made.

I work closely with the staff at St. Vincent de Paul who coordinate most of the family applications. St. Vincent de Paul also merges its list of requests with the Salvation Army’s to ensure all families will receive assistance.

Local retired and active-duty Marines always lend a hand financially, physically and with their time to support the effort. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is my hub where volunteers and I can store, sort and distribute toys to families. With that come phone calls, questions and cleanup, which staff at St. Paul’s does without complaint.

The national Marine Toys for Tots Foundation supplies all my boxes, posters and promotional items.

I have many favorite memories over the past five years. Last year I was fortunate to have Sgt. Jesus Granados and then-Pvt. Eric Eastman in their dress blues standing outside in the snow downtown with me collecting donations. Friendly and stoic, they shared their time with me as well as veterans and others who stopped by to talk.

There are also visions of my husband in the dark loading and unloading toys in the snow. I see my children each carrying boxes or bags of toys, counting them and then painstakingly leaving each in its place when I know they really want to play with everything.

I see my friends driving around town picking up huge boxes at businesses and unloading between their children’s preschool and nap time. I see them sorting toys with me as I promise it will only take an hour, then realize it is 10 p.m. on a school night and we are not done.

I see Younglives mentors showing local teen moms how to sort toys for other families, all the while encouraging and guiding them. Over the years I have the same teenage brothers with their buddy volunteer on pick up day.

I see my oldest son take pride in being a part of the entire process, memorizing the entire list of more than 20 drop off locations. He can sort toys by age and help a family fill out an application if they show up late. I see him stand tall with his shoulders back, totally in charge when the volunteers show up. He makes me so proud.

My family lives Toys for Tots for six weeks during the holiday season. The first year it was hard to explain Toys for Tots and Santa in the same conversation with my young children. But they know not everyone is fortunate enough to receive gifts at Christmas time, and that it is our responsibility to help get them to families. They don’t complain, they help.

I want them to learn that each year during Christmas the Swanson family is one that supports families having a tough years. And I want them to support the Marines, businesses, friends and volunteers who support us and make Toys for Tots possible in our community.

Walla Walla is a very giving community and that aspect makes it easy for me to succeed as a Toys for Tots volunteer coordinator.

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