Christmas is drawing near, and a number of local retired U.S. Marines are back in action.
Over the years, the Marine Corps League of Naples has collected thousands of toys for area children in need, and this year they plan to break records with the number of Toys for Tots donations collected from the community.
“I’ve been actively involved in it for five years, and I’m chairing it this year,” said Joe Johnston, senior vice commandant for the league. “We have 200 collection boxes out there. Some are in Fifth Third banks, all Publixs in Naples, at Coastland mall, and various real estate offices.
“It’s extremely satisfying, and an awesome experience. When they come through the line on distribution day, and mothers have tears in their eyes, you realize this is the only Christmas they’ll get.”
Daniel Garcia, another Toys for Tots volunteer, echoed Johnston’s words.
“I’m just standing anywhere they tell me to in order to collect toys. I’ll be in front of the Bed, Bath & Beyond Plaza, and then I’ll be at other locations throughout November and December,” he said.
Many communities do their part to collect toys, and Johnston welcomes new donors to gather together for holiday parties with a donated toy in tow. Those holiday party toy donations can then be added to the Toys for Tots campaign, too.
“Our largest toy donor is Pelican Bay, and we can’t do a successful campaign without them,” Johnston said. “We have many gated communities and different groups who are involved, and the Post Office delivers a bulk mailing to help us. They will pick up donated toys from mailboxes on December 4th.”
For residents of Pelican Bay, it is a long-standing tradition of giving to the Toys for Tots campaign, which brought forth a resident teddy bear that graces the holiday decor of the Hammock Oak Community Center each year. “Bear,” a 4-foot teddy, is fluffed and ready to watch over the newly donated toys in the main lobby of the center as generous folks deliver toys.
“There’s more than 90 neighborhoods in Pelican Bay, and my goal is to get one neighbor to lead each neighborhood,” explained Joanne Hobin, who chaired the event for many years following the dedicated efforts of Pelican Bay resident, Lois Sabatino, who first responded to the calling of Toys for Tots, along with her neighbors and friends.
“Lois Sabatino really got the ball rolling for the first 12 years, then I started after her. We have former Marines who live in Pelican Bay, who help to get the toys to the distribution center,” said Hobin in between her busy schedule of checking in with Toys for Tots volunteers.
To Hobin, it is about bringing joy to children in need, while motivating neighbors to reach out to others.
“I enjoy people, and it’s very rewarding to see the positive response it creates in people when they donate to Toys for Tots,” she said.
Along with many other locations throughout the community, Toys for Tots volunteers will be at the Coastland Center mall for those who want to donate unwrapped toys. The retired Marines mentioned that the most challenging age range for donations is preteen and teenagers. They said that make-up kits and MP3 players are welcomed, and that all toys should be new. Bicycles are also welcomed, both assembled or disassembled.
To learn more about the Toys for Tots campaign, go to www.toysfortots.org.