JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- U.S. Marines assigned to Delta Company, 4th Law Enforcement Battalion, are gearing up this holiday season to deliver toys to children living in more than 70 remote villages of Alaska during the 2018 Toys for Tots campaign.
“With the help of many different private and non-profit organizations we were able to reach more than 45 villages and deliver just over 30,000 toys last year,” said U.S. Marine Corp Sgt. Michael Pastore, Toys for Tots Alaska coordinator. “Although these numbers were good, our goal is to reach every child in need which compels us to look for new ways to reach out and expand. This year I was able to make contact with several schools and community leaders from remote villages we hadn’t been able to reach before. Through our partnerships with local businesses and lots of strategic planning, we are going to be able to reach more than 70 villages.”
Toys for Tots is a national community action program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve with a goal of delivering, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate children.
Every year in October, local toy collection campaigns begin and last until mid to late December when toy distribution takes place. Once the toys are picked up they are stored in a central warehouse where they are sorted by volunteers into age and gender bundles.
“Normally platforms would be built and the toys would be driven to various non-profit organizations and the toys would be distributed, Pastore said.
“What makes Alaska’s campaign so unique is the vast amount of land area we are trying to cover and having limited ways of transporting the toys to the remote locations. One of the complications we faced this year was the servicing and repairing of some of our aging snow machines. We really need these to work flawlessly during distribution in order to accomplish our mission here.”
At Christmas, Coordinators, with the assistance of local social welfare agencies, church groups, and other local community agencies, distribute the toys to the less fortunate children of the community.
“Over the years, we have established close working relationships with many social welfare agencies, churches and other local community agencies who are well qualified to identify children in the community who are in need and play important roles in the distribution of the toys,” said USMC Staff Sgt. Julius Howard, Toys for Tots Alaska volunteer coordinator. “It is an amazing feeling you get when you pass the toys out and the look of excitement and appreciation the children have, there’s just no words for it.”
Getting to go to places like Kotzebue and see first-hand the children receiving a gift is unlike anything you can imagine, Pastore said.
“The children are all so excited because toys are not typically in the budget when water costs more than $10 a gallon,” Pastore and Howard said. “Now is the time for anyone who can volunteer to get involved. We have so many ways individuals can get involve and give of their selves.”
With Toys for Tots, 97 percent of finances raised will go to buying toys and three percent will go towards covering the costs of distribution, according to the organizations website.
“While the Toys for Tots Coordinators organize, direct and manage the campaign, the ultimate success depends on the support of the local community and the generosity of the people who donate,” Pastore said. “This just plainly wouldn’t happen.”