BY MELANIE WADE –
The Marine Corps League Detachment #1261 has launched their annual Toys for Tots campaign and organizers hope to see Polk County once again, come out in droves to help the less fortunate this year.
Toys for Tots is a nationwide organization that has helped hundreds of thousands of children since its inception in the 1940’s. In 1995, the Secretary of Defense approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the United States Marine Corps and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve. The local Toys for Tots program is sponsored by the Marine Corps League Detachment #1261, which is based in Mena.
Nathan Roth, member of the local Detachment explained that the program began in Polk County almost a decade ago. “Toys for Tots started in the mid-1940s and the Marine Corps Reserves handled that until 1979. They use to work and refurbish toys, but in 1980 they started to collect new, unwrapped toys. Here in Mena, we’ve been doing it for about nine years.”
Roth said Walt Gray, Sr., was the Commandant when they launched the program locally and George O’Daniel traveled to Little Rock to receive the certification. “Before we were certified, we had to give our collections to someone else and now we can do it on our own,” Roth explained.
The Toys for Tots program collects new and unwrapped toys throughout Polk County and have dozens of collection boxes distributed in local businesses, banks, and schools. There are also collection jars at local businesses, in the case that someone prefers to donate a monetary contribution. Those funds are used to buy more gifts.
George O’Daniel, Commandant of the Detachment, who’s heart is connected to the program year round, said, “Last year we provided toys for 630 Polk County children and around 200 in Montgomery County.”
The Mena Elks Lodge #781 contributes their building and storage facilities for the program each year. The two non-profits came together in recent years to combine their annual holiday programs. The Detachment handles the toy program and the Elks offer a food basket program. This will be the fourth year to combine their efforts and each year, they are able to reach and benefit additional families.
Brian Thompson, Exhaulted Ruler of the Mena Elks Lodge, said the Elks were happy to partner with the Marine Corps League Detachment and the two programs fit well together. “We partnered with the Marines in 2014; this is our fourth year working together. We started working with Toys for Tots and are now able to do double what we did before,” Thompson said. “What they do for us is great,” he added.
The Elks buy healthy food baskets for each family so that kids have healthy food while they are home for the holidays. “We make sure they have healthy food for that two-week break,” said Thompson. “We think every child deserves to have something nice to open on Christmas morning, that’s our philosophy that we’ve always strived for. The spirit of Christmas is giving, not receiving. We could not do this without the help of all of Polk County.”
Roth added, “Donate as much as you can. Just remember, it goes to the kids. Everything is about the kids.”
Applications can be found in local newspapers the weeks of November 19th and 26th. The program is for infants to 12 years old. Forms must be returned by December 2nd. Toys and food baskets will be distributed on Saturday, December 16th, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Mena Elks Lodge. Santa Claus will be on hand and snacks will be available.
If you would like to make a monetary donation to the program or have further questions, contact George O’Daniel at 479-216-1217.
Several organizations also raise money to benefit the program. Check out the Pulse Calendar of Events for details this week and in the coming weeks and stay tuned in to KENA 104.1FM.