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How Toys for Tots is boosting the number of families it serves in Hall County
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Joshua Hernandez of Gainesville and his son, right, Hezehaik, 3, prepare a load of toys from Toys for Tots for a family on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Packing a warehouse to the brim with gifts, Hall County’s Toys for Tots nearly doubled last year’s amount of donations.

The number jumped from 753 to 1,300 families served through the fundraising efforts of various local businesses, organizations, churches and individuals in the community.

Sponsored by Marine Corps League Detachment 665, people flooded into the warehouse next to Rockport Indoor Soccer off of Atlanta Highway in Gainesville. 

Kristi Graham, coordinator of the program, said she received help from the local Hispanic Alliance and Basan Ministries to reach out to pockets of Hall County, which were overlooked in the past.

“I love it,” Graham said. “I love seeing the families come in with their kids. From the military side of it, to the family side of it, and just the community side of it, this is a dream come true in how it’s developing.”

Graham said one of the largest donations came from TD Automotive Compressor Georgia, LLC. Under the guidance of its president, Shinji Saji, the company raised around $1,500 and donated a 30-foot trailer load of toys. 

“It was a plant-wide effort,” said Penny Scott, the company’s human resources office assistant. “This was an awesome opportunity to reach out to the community.”

Chuck Bryan, veteran with the Marine Corps League, said his detachment started holding Toys for Tots in Hall County 10 years ago. 

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Jose Pastor of Gainesville loads his car up with toys from Toys for Tots on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

During the program’s first year, the group of Marines hosted it inside of a house’s garage. Now it takes place inside a 1,000-square-foot warehouse.

Composed of high schoolers, Marine veterans and individuals in the community, this year’s program had around 80 volunteers. Friday, Dec. 21 was the last out of five days the volunteers distributed toys to families. 

Shannon Head spent her first time volunteering with Toys for Tots this month. She brought along her 8-year-old son to help at the distribution center. 

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Yeni Ticas of Gainesville prepares a load of toys from Toys for Tots for the pediatric floor at Northeast Georgia Medical Center on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. Ticas has been assisting Toys for Tots since 2011. - photo by Austin Steele

“I’m volunteering because in the past they have helped me as well, and I just want to give back,” Head said. 

Graham also has her own story for joining the nonprofit’s efforts in the community. She was inspired to get involved by the Marines who run Toys for Tots.

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Joshua Hernandez of Gainesville and his son, right, Hezehaik, 3, prepare a load of toys from Toys for Tots for a family on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Five years ago Graham’s husband, who was a Marine, passed away soon after the two moved to Gainesville. 

Marines from Hall County and around the country traveled to attend her husband’s wake and participated in the funeral’s Honor Guard.

Graham said before the veterans honored her husband, she didn’t understand the extent of brotherhood among Marines. 

“We didn’t know her, she didn’t know us,” Bryan said. “All we know was there was a Marine who passed. We went out and paid tribute to him.”


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