Toys for Tots Marines ‘really are Santa Claus’ for DeKalb children
October 6, 2017 Share

Toys for Tots Marines ‘really are Santa Claus’ for DeKalb children

PHOTO: Toys for Tots Coordinator LaRue Hardinger and Marine Michael Freeman during a radio interview at WBSA 1300 AM with host Donna Feazell, to promote upcoming Marine Toys for Tots events in DeKalb County. (Contributed Photo | Northeast Alabama Marine Corps League)

Contributed by LaRue Hardinger, Northeast Alabama Marine Corps League 

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — The annual Marine Toys for Tots campaign kicks into full drive October 1st in DeKalb County with fundraisers planned and toy drop boxes to be placed in businesses throughout the county.

Local Marine Toys for Tots provided toys for 600 less fortunate DeKalb County children in 2013; 761 in 2014; 887 in 2015; and 846 in 2016 – bringing joy to over 3,000 children with their distribution of more than 14,000 toys.

“The past four year’s campaigns were a success because our Marines and the community worked together,” said Landon Fant, Detachment 1404 Assistant Toys for Tots Coordinator.  “With their combined efforts, we were able to help these families in need at Christmas time, and our goal is to do the same this year.”

Toys for Tots Coordinator LaRue Hardinger added, “We are now in our fifth Toys for Tots campaign; and it’s good to know there are so many generous folks in this county who can’t stand the thought of a child waking up on Christmas morning, with no present under the tree.

“That is why we Marine Toys for Tots volunteers work to exhaustion during the weeks leading up to Christmas —  we want no child to feel they are forgotten or to lose hope – to feel that Christmas has passed them by.

“Our detachment is 100 percent volunteer, and no one is paid a penny,” Fant noted.  “They give of their own gas, time, food and effort.”

Hardinger and Fant invite shoppers to keep an eye out for Toys for Tots drop boxes and coin receptacles in neighborhood businesses, and to donate new, un-gift-wrapped toys for children ages 0 – 18. “Toys and money donated in DeKalb County stays in DeKalb County,” she stressed.

All drop boxes will be retrieved on or about Monday, Dec. 14, since toy distribution will take place later that week – on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 14 and 15, at the Fort Payne National Guard Armory, 4206 North Gault Avenue, Fort Payne, Al, 35967.

All toy and coin boxes are marked with the trademark red Toys for Tots choo-choo train logo.  Stores should only release toys and money to volunteers wearing a lanyard with their photo ID bearing the Toys for Tots logo, Hardinger said.

“We do NOT call peoples’ homes, asking for donations,” she added, “and we do NOT go door-to-door asking for donations.  We do set up at various stores or festivals to accept gifts; and we do place the drop boxes and coin boxes in businesses.  That is ALL.  Please do not give to anyone calling you or coming to your door!”

Hardinger said businesses wishing to host a toy drop box or coin receptacle may do so by calling her at 256-996-3111, or calling Fant at 256-601-9208; or by going to www.toysfortots.org and following the prompts.

Businesses can also help by donating items needed to carry out this huge undertaking, such as batteries (AA, AAA, 9-Volt), printing paper, ink cartridges (Hewlett Packard 61 XL), staples, black markers, heavy-duty contractor bags (for bagging toys), and free food or gasoline vouchers for volunteers as they work long hours.

Family toy request applications can be placed at the DeKalb County Department of Human Resources (Food Stamp Office); however non-profit organizations putting together Christmas baskets for needy families may get help with toys from Marine Toys for Tots, as well.

The non-profit application can be accessed until November 15th at www.toysfortot.org by clicking on Alabama; then DeKalb; then Request Toys; then Non-Profit Toy Request form.  This must be accessed by computer (not phones).   For help in filling out the application and the pickup of toys, the non-profit organizer may contact Hardinger at 256-996-3111.

“Last year, we were able to provide toys for three different church and non-profit groups,” Hardinger said.  She also invited any Christmas charity in DeKalb to compare lists with Marine Toys for Tots, to prevent any family from purposely receiving toys from multiple agencies.  Lists can be emailed to Hardinger for comparison with the Toys for Tots’ county-wide data base:  larueha@yahoo.com

Toys for Tots clients must meet criteria of the USMC and Federal Poverty Guidelines, Hardinger said.  “The child must live in the home; live inside DeKalb County; and be between 0-18 years of age.  Children of age, must be in school. And of course, there must be proof of financial need.

Parents or legal guardians applying for help should bring with them a photo ID, recent utility bill showing name & address, birth certificates for each child, social security cards for each child, and any of the following:

  • Food Stamp Case letter
  • Housing Authority Case letter
  • Note from school that child receives free or reduced-priced lunches
  • Note from Head Start that child is enrolled
  • WIC Case letter
  • Document showing recent loss of job; injury causing parent to become disabled and unable to work; recent event such as house fire or loss of home to natural disaster.
  • List of each child’s school, head start, grade, and teacher.
  • Documentation of legal adoption or guardianship of the children by the applicant.

“We do make year-round exceptions when there is a crisis, such as a house fire, or domestic situation,” Hardinger added. “Last year, we answered calls from five schools and two churches for children needing sudden help, due to a crisis.  But — we were only able to do this, because people gave so willingly.”

Hardinger said Lowe’s of Fort Payne provided hundreds of heavy duty contractor bags for bagging the toys; Fort Payne Police Department provided security; Fort Payne City Council provided workspace; and Randy Wilson Realty provided storage, free of charge.

Last year, these top three employee groups held their own Marine Toys for Tots fundraisers and were recognized by the United States Marine Corps Commandant:  UPS Fort Payne Shipping Center; RTI of Rainsville; and Heil Corporation.

The Red Knights Motorcycle Club Chapter 15 Alabama held a fundraiser which raised over $2,000.  Their 2nd Annual TFT Benefit Ride is Saturday October 7th at 10 am at the Shiloh Fire Department. Bring a $20 toy or donate $20 per bike. Kickstands up at 11 am, with food and entertainment to follow the ride.

Hardinger said donation checks should be made out to “Toys for Tots” and sent to: Toys for Tots, c/o Coordinator LaRue Hardinger, POB 681516, Fort Payne, AL 35968. Each gift is tax-deductible. Keep a copy of the check or money order, Hardinger advised.

Anyone not wanting to mail donations may call Hardinger at 256-996-3111 for a personal pickup by a local Marine.  Those wishing to donate online should go to:  www.toysfortots.org and donate after clicking on Fort Payne, AL.  “Otherwise, the donation will not go to us,” Hardinger said.

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The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program has existed since 1947.  Marine Corps Reserve Centers or volunteer organizations usually hold community drives, such as the Marine Corps League.  806 Marine Toys for Tots community campaigns are being held in 2017.

Until the N.E. Alabama Marine Corps League, Detachment 1404 was chartered in November, 2012, DeKalb County “just fell through the cracks,” Hardinger said.

Detachment 1404 is based in Fort Payne and is one of 18 detachments in Alabama.  The Marine Corps League is a nationwide, Congressionally-chartered, military, service, nonprofit organization.

Even though Detachment 1404 is a 501c3 nonprofit agency, it is separate from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, another 501c3 non-profit foundation.  “We are simply administering the Toys for Tots program for DeKalb County,” explained Hardinger.

Members of a Marine Corps League are active, retired, or honorably discharged, U.S. Marines or Fleet Marine Force Navy Corpsmen (medics assigned to a Marine unit).  Associate members are supportive members from the community, usually a relative or spouse of a Marine or Corpsman.  Each member is subject to background check.  Other military branch members are welcome to apply for associate membership, as well.

The Marine Corps League’s goal is to support Marines and to serve the community through charitable programs.  Toys for Tots is just one of those programs – but probably the most visible.  Detachment 1404 has over 50 members, of whom 30 are active in the Toys for Tots campaign.

This year, the FPHS JROTC, under the supervision of our Associate Member Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Herbert Hollingsworth, is helping the Toys for Tots crew at fundraising events and toy moving.

Detachment 1404 is working with the City of Fort Payne to organize Fort Payne’s 4th Veterans Day Parade, set for Friday, Nov. 10.  Lineup is 3 pm at the VFW Fairgrounds and the parade begins at 4 pm.

Meetings of the N.E. Alabama Marine Corps League are held the second Saturday of each month at 10 am, in the meeting hall located at 659 Wallace Avenue N.E., Fort Payne, AL, 35967.

For more information about the league, call Commandant Mike Key at 256-996-5714.

 

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