MIGHTY HISTORY

How Toys for Tots became an official mission of the Marine Corps

Christmas is a time for giving. Yeah, family and friends share gifts with one another, but the spirit of Christmas is also about giving to those in need. Every year, you'll find boxes placed by Toys for Tots, waiting to catch donations of new, unwrapped presents from giving, good-willed samaritans. These gifts go toward brightening up a less-fortunate child's Christmas morning.

Though you might not know it, this gesture of good will is made possible by the Marine Corps Reserves. Since 1995, Toys for Tots has been listed as an official mission of the Marines to be conducted around the holidays.


Toys for Tots got its start in the winter of 1947, when Diane Hendricks, wife of Maj. Bill Hendricks of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, wanted to gift a bunch of homemade dolls to kids in need. Diane made the dolls with the hope of giving a happy holiday to some less-fortunate girls — but she quickly realized that there was no such organization to help her help others.

Maj. Hendricks, inspired by his wife's generosity, gathered his fellow Marine Corps Reservists buddies and placed giant boxes outside of movie theaters across Los Angeles to help attract others to their cause. Off-duty Marines were to accept donated gifts in their Blues and personally thank each donor.

The first Christmas was a massive success. Their small team gathered 5,000 toys and gave them to the children of Los Angeles. It was such a success, in fact, that they were able to elevate the charity to the national level the very next year.

I know the Marines were there, accepting toys with a smile, but a salty Gunny knife-handing civilians who didn't donate would arguably be more effective.

(Official Marine Corps Photo)

Even as the movement gained national recognition, it remained a fairly small-scale operation, done by Marines reservists between drill weekends — but this mission of good will was eating into the time that the Marines needed to spend being Marines.

By 1980, the stipulation that stated gifts had to be "new and unwrapped" was added because the young Marines spent way too much time refurbishing all of the used toys parents didn't want anymore.

Toys for Tots had grown far bigger far faster than anyone imagined. The Marines knew they needed to expand the program to keep giving toys to children that needed them, but they couldn't do it at the expense of being Marines. So after 44 years of being an unofficial program of Marine Reservists, they sought official recognition from the Pentagon to keep going. In 1991, The Marine Toys for Tots finally became an actual charity.

Doing every little bit to make Santa's job a little easier this Christmas.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Re-Essa Buckels).

This new recognition came with many perks — and one huge drawback. First, it allowed the charity to work with organizations to take on large-scale donations and financial assistance. It also meant that people could now mark off any given resent as a "charitable donation," which comes in handy just before tax season. New employees, outside of the Marines, could come handle some of the legwork. And, to top it all off, the organization was able to use funds to get needed materials, like boxes and wrapping paper, without the Marines spending their personal money on it.

But this all came in direct conflict with the military's stance on staying out of the public sector. Despite being a program made by Marines, carried out by Marines for 44 years, and having "Marine" in the title (its full name is the "Marine Toys for Tots Foundation"), the United States military is not supposed to endorse any civilian organization, company, or charity.

This awkwardness needed to be addressed and, in 1995, the Marine Toys for Tots Organization became the one and only organization to earn an exception when Secretary of Defense William J. Perry added "assisting the Toys for Tots" as an official mission of the United States Marine Corps.

So, help out your fellow Marines and donate a toy or two when you see their boxes. It really will go a long way.

(Air Force Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lloyd)