Toys For Tots distributed

Greg Merschel, coordinator of the local Marine Corps Toys For Tots program, saw the line of more than 400 people waiting to shop in the nonprofit’s overflowing gift store Wednesday as a true Christmas miracle.

So did Cheryl Robinson, who was shopping for her three children.

“It means we are going to have something under the tree this year,” she said.

As of last week, the program had collected just one-third of what it needed to provide Christmas presents for the more than 4,000 needy children in the Grand Valley this year.

On Wednesday, at the culmination of the effort, Merschel said he just felt “peace.”

“I don’t know how else to describe it. It was literally within the last two days that we pulled it off,” he said.

The goods were divided by age group into separate rooms of the old City Market warehouse on First Street. Guests were escorted by volunteers, who helped parents select a large gift, two smaller gifts, a book and a stocking stuffer for each child in the family. They also could choose between a ball or game for the family, plus books and stuffed animals, while supplies lasted.

Robinson was able to carefully choose gifts for her two teen-aged daughters and school-aged son with the help of volunteer Denise Denning and her 8-year-old daughter, Kaity McDiffett. Denning asked what her children’s interests were, then helped her find appropriate gifts. Robinson even picked up the batteries to keep the toys running long past Christmas day.

Robinson said the Toys For Tots program was something she felt lucky to have in the Grand Valley.

“If I could, I’d hug everyone involved here today,” she said.

Having enough toys to meet the expressed needs of area residents was made possible by the last-minute generosity of the people of the Grand Valley and a few key businesses that donated generously to the cause.

One of the largest contributors was the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club Foundation, which provided $6,252 in funds and toy donations. Big O Tires and Waste Management, as well as many area dentists, chiropractic offices and other businesses, helped stuff the toy store with dolls, trucks, backpacks, balls and games for needy families.

The Toys For Tots Program was started in 1947 in Los Angeles by Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Corps reservists. According to the Marine Corps Reserve, the program has distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children across the nation since its inception.


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