You've seen them before at this time of year -- United States Marines in their full dress blues standing near bins full of toys with the signature logo of the Toys for Tots program. And you've definitely seen this commercial:
Just two years after the end of World War II, a Marine Corps Reserve officer named Maj. Bill Hendricks wanted to donate a Raggedy Ann doll his wife had made to a charity in the Los Angeles area, but he couldn't find one that met what he had in mind.
What he did find were thousands of children who needed toys.
A seven-year-old gives an electronic toy game to a Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. for the Toys for Tots campaign on board Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class Matthew Schwarz)
So Hendricks, who was also the Public Relations Director for Warner Brothers Studios, and his wife were joined by his commanding officer and fellow Marines on a mission to collect between 5,000 and 7,000 toys to give to needy kids on Christmas Day. With that the Toys for Tots program was born.
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Denis Licona, left, and Gunnery Sgt. Jarod Duke, help open a gift for a boy during a community relations event, at a school for underprivileged children. Marines and Sailors donated gifts to 60 children as part of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Christmas Drive. (Photo by Daniela Muto |Released)
"That first year we delivered the toys ourselves," Hendricks told said in an interview before his 1992 death. "We were winding up the campaign on Christmas Eve, delivering toys right up to midnight. A master sergeant and I went to a place where three kids were waiting up for us. I can still see their faces. After leaving the toys, one of the children followed us out to the car and said, 'Thank you very much.' That 'thank you' was worth the effort."
The first run was so successful, the USMC expanded it to a nationwide effort the next year. Every Marine Corps Reserve site worked with the local community to collect and distribute millions of toys.
In the years following, the Marines received star-studded help from the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. The logo was designed by Walt Disney himself.
Now the effort is augmented by the nonprofit Toys for Tots Foundation, which expanded the number of toys collected to 16 million worth an estimated $243 million every year. The foundation regularly receives four-star ratings from Charity navigator and in 2003 was on Forbes' Top Ten Children's Charities.