Raakesh Patel, the chairman of the Toys for Tots local charitable organization and a member of the Marine Corps League, said this was the organization’s sixth year holding the kickoff at Big Lots. He said Big Lots is a national sponsor of Toys for Tots and plays a major part in organizing the event, as does the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office.
He said the actual work at the event was done by members of the Griffin High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), while members of the Marine Corps League supervised.
Patel explained that the kickoff event typically raises $500 to $700 and collects 500 to 600 toys. He said 2,000 children are currently registered to receive toys from the Toys for Tots program this year and more children may be registered as the holiday season progresses. He hopes the year’s campaign will collect 5,000 toys.
Patel had a request for those who wished to donate.
“Those looking to make donations, please look at older boys and girls, ages 9 to 12,” he said.
Toys for younger children are common; toys for older children, less so.
Andy Doss, who played Santa Claus, arrived on a fire engine. He sat in a large leather chair in the back of Big Lots, waiting for the children to arrive.
“I’ve been doing it for 20 years,” he said.
Doss has participated in the Toys for Tots kickoff every year there has been one. He said years ago, the Marine Corps League contacted the Sheriff’s Office, where his wife works, and asked for a Santa Claus. His wife passed the request onto him.
He said his favorite part of being Santa Claus is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces.
Cindy Kelly and her 10-year-old son, Matt, placed toys in the twin donation bins marked with the American and Marine Corps flags.
“My daughter’s up there with the ROTC,” she said.
Cindy Kelly donated die-cast toy cars, while her daughter, Katy Kelly, donated two Barbie dolls.
Katy Kelly, 14, explained the part the JROTC volunteers played in the event, saying they stood at the corners at each parking lot entrance, collecting donated toys from those who did not want to drive to Big Lots and took the toys to the donation boxes. They also helped closer to the store in any way possible.
“It helps bring toys to the unlucky kids for Christmas,” she said.
According to the Web site of the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, the program began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine reservists collected 5,000 toys for needy children in Los Angeles. Those looking for more information about the Toys for Tots program should visit www.mcleague1196.org and click on “Toys for Tots.”