Posted: 7:40 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, 2012

Toys for Tots signup is next week


    Toys for Tots signup is next week photo
    Al Haley sorts through toys for the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots campaign that is underway. The Corps will begin taking applications for assistance on Monday and, according to Haley, will probably distribute toys to 4,000 children in Clark County this year. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

    By Andrew McGinn

    Staff Writer


    The coordinator of the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program in Clark County expects to help a record 4,000 children this Christmas.

    Al Haley isn’t surprised.

    “Not with the way the economy is,” he said Friday.

    Detachment 963 of the Marine Corps League, which administers the program locally in the absence of a Marine Reserve Center, will find out next week how close that prediction is — Clark County families who can’t afford to buy toys this Christmas may apply for assistance from noon to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, and from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1031, 1237 E. Main St.

    Those who want to help donate may do so from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8, when the local League holds its fifth annual Stuff the Bus event — in which a Southbrook Care Center bus is, in fact, stuffed with new, unwrapped toys — at Kmart, 1476 Upper Valley Pike.

    There’s a certain heart-warming irony that the branch of the service legendary for its toughness at Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir has, for 65 years, been just as well-known for collecting and passing out toys at Christmas.

    “It’s the softer side of the Marine Corps,” said Haley, a Gulf War veteran and retired ejection-seat mechanic who, like all Marines, was trained in hand-to-hand combat.

    “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” he said. “And I don’t want it to be the children who lose out. We don’t want them to think Santa forgot about them.”

    Nationally, the Corps has distributed more than 452 million toys to more than 209 million children since the inception of Toys for Tots in 1947.

    Locally, Detachment 963 formed in 1997, and has been conducting the annual toy drive since 1998, when they helped 286 children.

    Partly because of growing need and partly because the Toys for Tots brand is so strong (the train logo was designed by Walt Disney), they now help thousands locally. Last year, the local League distributed toys to more than 3,500 children.

    For the first nine years, Haley ran Toys for Tots out of his house.

    “My basement was full,” he said. “My garage got full. It was a madhouse.”

    To acquire the needed number of toys, Haley both purchases toys — locally when possible — and relies on donations of new toys. The League has about 65 barrels this year at area businesses for the collection of donated toys, and will pick up the barrels on Dec. 10.

    The program helps children of every age, from newborns to 18-year-olds who are still in school and living at home.

    “If you’re an 18-year-old still living at home but you’re in school, I consider you to be a child,” Haley said. “If you’re 18 and still living at home and not going to school, you’re a freeloader. Get into the Marine Corps.”

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