Toys for Tots has become synonymous with Christmas and the train logo has made many appearances in the Eastern Panhandle. The program began in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR, collected 5,000 toys in Los Angeles during a campaign before Christmas. The program was so successful, the United States Marine Corps adopted it the following year and made it a nationwide community action project. In 1948, Walt Disney designed the now famous Toys for Tots train logo and created the first national Toys for Tots poster.
The tradition of toy collection for needy children has continued since that first collection and has been going strong in the Eastern Panhandle for many years.
Regional Coordinator Paul Turner visited the Charles Town VFW Post Thursday to gather the toys that organization has gathered over the past weeks. Turner has headed up the Eastern Panhandle Toys for Tots since it was chartered by the national organization in 2006.
Turner said that his region covers all eight counties in the Panhandle and has increased in its service from 1,200 served in its first year to between 6,000 and 7,000 this year.
"Sixty percent of that is in Jefferson and Berkeley counties," he shared. "Over 2,000 families will be helped this year," he said.
VFW Junior Vice Commander Byron Royal and Senior Vice Commander Adam Solich expressed that their organization was honored to help the cause by collecting toys at their Post Home. The Post already has plans to begin their collection closer to the October 1 start of the program in 2014.
Turner explained that applications are taken online for recipients of the toys. The webiste opens Oct. 1 and closes approximately Dec. 15.
Often, requests come in later than the cut-off date. Turner shared stories of delivering gifts on Christmas Eve.
"We will do our best to help anyone we can," he said.
Collections within the eight counties are brought to a central warehouse, this year in Martinsburg, where volunteers pack and prepare for distribution. Additional volunteers then deliver the gifts.
"We attempt to get kids what they like," Turner said. "We give age appropriate gifts to children ages 15 and under."
Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith was on hand at the VFW Post when Turner collected the gifts gathered there.
"Thank goodness for people like you," she told Turner. Smith requested a box to be placed at Charles Town City Hall next season. Turner shared that the police department offers a drop-off location. He also said that there are many depositories around Jefferson County. The Shepherdstown Opera House collected toys as well and celebrated the season with a special movie on Saturday.
Turner said that between the entire Eastern Panhandle program is run by volunteers. The "elves," as he called them, range in number for 200-300 each year between gathering gifts, packing and delivering.