By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez residents have nine spots where they can drop off toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program that tries to assure that no child wakes up Christmas morning without a gift to unwrap, Sgt. Andrew J. Harris said.
Harris, the Toys for Tots coordinator of the local warehouse in Concord, said Contra Costa County has about 45,000 underprivileged children among a county population of about 1 million.
He said Contra Costa County has a staff of 18 Marines who reach out to residents and companies during the campaign. It’s not a specialty assignment – these reserves add Toys for Tots to their other duties.
“It’s our pleasure to work with the community, and it is a program that we hope to carry on forever,” Harris said.
“We collect and donate 80-100,000 toys,” he said. He has watched local donations of toys and money decline, “but the Toys for Tots organization is good about supporting us with any resources we may need or request.”
He said gifts for newborns to those 2 years old as well as those age 12 and up are “the hardest age ranges to collect toys for and is our weakest link in the toy fill process.”
Sgt. Antonio Castaneda is the Toys for Tots coordinator for Contra Costa County, and it’s his first time to have that job. Usually it’s given to a Marine Reserve of higher rank.
“It’s definitely a little bit of a challenge!” he said.
Castaneda said Harris decides who gets a collection box from those who apply online to the Toys for Tots website, www.toysfortots.org. Businesses and organizations may apply through Dec. 2 and will get a response usually within a day or two, Castaneda said, although time is running out for additional collection sites.
That’s because the Marine Reserves have but one driver who picks up the toys when collection sites say their bins are full, and the deadline to give is Dec. 18, he said. “We’re running out of boxes, too.”
Large and small businesses have volunteered to collect toys, and oddly enough, it’s the smaller companies that produce the most donations, he said. Larger organizations supplement their contributions with cash.
The Marine Reserves work with all fire stations in Contra Costa County, including the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District that covers Martinez. Police departments, including Martinez Police Department, are also the program’s partners.
In addition to being collection sites, fire stations and police departments are places where smaller companies can bring their full boxes, reducing the stops a Marine Reserve driver has to make to pick up toys, Castaneda said.
Toys will be collected through Dec. 18, the last day the Marine Reserves will dispatch a driver, although toys dropped off at fire stations after that can still be delivered, Castaneda said.
The Marine Reserves turn to nonprofit organizations to get the presents into the hands of the children, he said.
“Nonprofits give us their requests and their tax identification number,” he said. The Marine Reserves check to make sure the organizations are properly credentialed as nonprofits, then start trying to fill requests.
So far this year, the Marine Reserves have managed to fill the nonprofit groups’ requests. But they count on residents who typically give more once they’ve finished Thanksgiving dinner and have turned their thoughts to Christmas. That’s because the charities will find even more underprivileged children who wouldn’t otherwise find a toy under their tree.
Although the organization emphasizes new, unwrapped toys, Castaneda recalled how Hendricks began by restoring used toys. “We take all toys,” he said, although because of liability concerns, all toys must be unwrapped. “We’ll try to supply as many as we can.”
Martinez places collecting toys this year are: Allstate Insurance, 3237 Alhambra Ave. Suite 3; Martinez Police Department, 525 Henrietta St.; Cole Real Estate, 1135-B Arnold Drive; State Farm Insurance, 1320 Arnold Drive Suite 160; Edward Jones Investments, 1350 Arnold Drive Suite 100; Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave.; Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Fire Station 13 at 251 Church St.; Fire Station 14 at 521 Jones St.; and Security Public Storage, 111 Muir Station Road.