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Families, volunteers share smiles, tears at Toys for Tots distribution

POSTED: December 21, 2013 11:46 p.m.

Christmas is a season filled with cheer and laughter, and a time of giving.

Some give their time and service to bring toys to children from less fortunate families for Christmas.

The Marine Corps League wrapped up its annual Toys for Tots drive for the Gainesville-Hall County community Saturday.

The drive took in donations of new and unwrapped toys over the past several months. They gave the toys to children of parents who can’t afford to fill their stockings without help.

Cookie Salinas, a three-year volunteer and first-year coordinator for Hall County TFT and former Marine, said an estimated 100 volunteers helped distribute toys to families at the Gainesville location at 1254 Industrial Blvd. Saturday marked the final day of distribution.

Volunteers included active and retired Marines, various clubs and civilians.

Salinas said the 3-to-5 year-old age group and the 8-to-10 age group of kids were the most in need this year. Toys were given out based on age and sorted between boys and girls.

He said an estimated 600 families will be helped this year.

He also said some of the toys will go to local churches and other organizations to be given out to kids.

“We don’t get to see the end results. We hand bags to parents and we never get to see the kids,” said Salinas. “Once in a while, we get to ... and when we do, that’s what makes it worthwhile.

“When orders come in, they are just names on a piece of paper. There was a lady who came in this morning and she was late getting in. We were able to get her credentials (for toys). She had taken on other family members.

“She broke down and started crying,” Salinas recalled. “So there are emotions involved. When we get to see the end result in a parent that is so truly grateful that they just break down, that’s what makes our job good.”

A week after Thanksgiving, Salinas said the warehouse was down to fewer than 1,000. The following week, toys started coming in 100 to 200 at a time, he said, including 130 distribution boxes.

After being brought in, he said each toy went through a four-day inspection process before being distributed.
“From the time I was drafted in the Marine Corps, ‘service the country’ was just drummed into us,” said Salinas. “These young men you see here (active Marines), they joined. I admire them for that. They have the same ‘service the country’ drilled into them, too.

“Over the years, I’ve just found it very rewarding to be able to work within the community and give something back for what we’ve gotten over the years. We haven’t had a billionaires’ life, but we have a comfortable life, and I think it’s necessary for people to pay back (the community).

“There are so many people in need and so many people hurting, and so many of us have a tendency to sit back and complain and gripe and argue and criticize instead of getting out and doing something to solve the problem,” Salinas said. “My wife always tells me ‘if you’re not going to be part of the solution, then don’t be apart of the problem, either,’ And she says ‘if you see something wrong, don’t gripe about it. Get in there and fix it.’”

Salinas summed his experience up as “laughter and joy and tears once in a while.”

Volunteer Louis Sanchas said he became active volunteering for Toys for Tots because his mom volunteered for 30 years in Maine with different organizations and he wanted to follow in her footsteps.

“I just like to know there are children in Hall County that will have toys,” said Sanchas. “Their faces, you want to know what there expressions are when they open the bag of toys.

“There are so many stories, it tears you up.”

Marine Pfcs. Anthony Langone and Jarod Hoffmann helped families load toys into their cars Saturday.

“Helping out the community is part of the job we do,” said Langone. “Any chance we’re given, why not take the opportunity to make the community a better place at home?

“To me (Christmas) does it make it special. This is the one time a lot of people are in need. A lot of people financially are in need. They’re also in need of a Christmas miracle, and us as Marines we’re here to make those miracles happen.”

Said Hoffmann, “Our job is to serve and protect the people of America and everyone, really. It’s part of our job to (help). We do it without even second-guessing. ... We do this for the people.”

Third-year volunteer acting commandant of the Marine Corps League Detachment 665, Upper Chattachoochee, Bill Stevens, said volunteering is something the league enjoys, describing the experience as “heart-warming.”

The league leases out the warehouse where the toys were housed before being distributed, Stevens said.

“People appreciate it when they see those (active) Marines in their dress blues, carrying out their gifts for their families,” he said. “Everybody here ... if they didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t be here. We have a great time.

“It’s the spirit of Christmas and it’s helping the community. We love it. It’s part of our mission statement.”

Stevens said he plans on volunteering for as long as he lives.

“We like to see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they leave with their toys,” he said.


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