Toys for Toys to help 63 local families
Jack Pittaway of the Holton VFW Post 1367 Riders spent Tuesday morning at the Holton National Guard Armory with some of his fellow veterans putting toys into a big red bag — just like kids imagine Santa Claus would do the night before Christmas.
These toys — cars, teddy bears, dolls, sports equipment, puzzles, games and telescopes, to name a few — were going into bags to help less fortunate children in a five-county area, including Jackson County, however. And Pittaway and a few other members of the VFW Riders were happy to do it.
The toys were collected from private donations and from drop boxes placed around the area for the Toys for Tots program, which the VFW Riders and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve brought to Jackson County for the first time this year.
Pittaway said the toy drive for needy children received more than 300 donations to serve 63 families this year — and he’s hoping for a lot more next year.
“I expect it to grow to maybe 300 families next year,” he said. “And then, the year after, maybe 1,000 families. I’m not sure if the people up north of here know how to take advantage of this program, but I’m hoping they will.”
Pittaway noted that bringing Toys for Tots into Holton to serve Jackson, Jefferson, Nemaha, Brown and Pottawatomie counties takes a little of the load off Gunnery Sgt. Max Coons, who coordinates the Topeka Toys for Tots distribution going on this week at the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Forbes Field. It’s Coons’ third year of involvement with the program, and his first year of being in charge of it.
“It’s part of our unit’s mission,” Coons said.
Indeed, Toys for Tots originated with a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Los Angeles in 1947, and the first year was enough of a success that the Marine Corps adopted it and expanded it nationwide one year later. Since then, it has been reported that the Marines have collected and distributed more than 470,000,000 toys through the program.
This year, Coons said, the Topeka program — which, in addition to the five counties covered now out of Holton, also covers Shawnee, Morris, Osage and Wabaunsee counties — will be serving about 650 needy families.
“You get a lot of families that sign up, and you can definitely tell that they’re down and out,” Coons said. “Folks show up year after year, and you start recognizing their faces, but you can see the ones who are genuinely in need, and when they put in their requests, they’ll just say, ‘anything you can do to help.’”
But there’s another side to participation in the program that warms his heart.
“We also get folks who make donations, and they’ll say, ‘when I was a kid, I received gifts from Toys for Tots, and I want to give back to the program,” Coons said. “It’s always good when you see people paying it forward.”
Pittaway said he decided to get involved with Toys for Tots on a local level after participating in a program ride with the Eagles Club in Beloit and finding himself impressed with that club’s dedication to children in need. He approached his fellow Riders about getting involved, and that led to contacts with Coons earlier this year.
“He said, ‘let’s make it happen,’” Pittaway said. “And we’re making it happen.”
The Holton collection and distribution point was originally intended to serve Jackson, Brown, Nemaha and Pottawatomie counties, he said, but once he saw the enthusiasm of VFW clubs in Jefferson County, the decision was made to bring that county on board.
“The Ozawkie riders really supported this,” Pittaway said. “They’ve been terrific. They brought lots of toys and cash donations, and they really made a lot of this possible.”
Coons also noted that Nemaha and Brown counties were added to Topeka’s Toys for Tots service area this year “because of the support we had up here.” Pittaway added that if anyone who lives outside of the service area wants to participate, they can.
“We’re doing some outlying areas that nobody else is taking care of,” Pittaway said. “We’ve got toys going to Geary County this morning.”
Organization and distribution was originally planned for the Veterans Club in Holton, but response to the program was more than the club could handle.
“We just kind of outgrew our intended space,” Pittaway said. “The Armory came along and offered us the room we needed.”
The Armory will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Saturday for distribution of toy bags to participating families, with Sunday being set aside as an extra day for families who are not able to get to the Armory any other day this week.
“All it takes is a phone call to me, and I’ll meet them here anytime,” Pittaway said.
And while the donation deadline for this year’s Toys for Tots distribution has passed, Pittaway said the VFW Riders will accept toys and donations for the program at any time of the year.
“It doesn’t have to be limited to just November and December,” he said.
For more information about Toys for Tots, contact Pittaway at (785) 534-0026 or Coons at (785) 862-0923, ext. 260, or visit topeka-ks.toysfortots.org