Toys For Tots began in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks USMCR(United States Marine Corp Reserve) and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed nearly 5,000 toys to needy children for Christmas. The idea came form Bill’s wife, Diane, who in the fall of 1947 crafted a homemade doll and asked Bill to deliver the doll to an organization which would give it to a needy child at Christmas. When Bill determined that no agency existed, Diane told Bill that he should start one. He did just that. The 1947 pilot project was so successful that the Marine Corps adopted Toys For Tots in 1948 and expanded it into a nationwide campaign. In the years to follow campaigns were launched in communities that had Marine Reserve Centers and kept it’s objective clear, to “bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children”. While not a reservist, Hendricks was employed by Warner Brothers Studios as Director of Public Relations which allowed doors to be accessed to further his cause. Hendricks was able to enlist numerous celebrities to support the program in addition to having Walt Disney create the Toys For Tots logo,(still in use today) and design the first poster in 1948 for the nationwide program. In 1956 Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee and Vic Damone recorded the Toys For Tots theme composed by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster, and laid the foundation for an endless line of celebrities lending their support to the organization all the way to today. ( Bob Hope, John Wayne, Doris Day, Lorrie Morgan, Tim Allen, Kenny Rogers , and even The First Lady have helped promote TFT)
From 1947 through 1979, Marines collected and distributed new and used toys and on Reserve Drill weekends during October, November and December, Reserve Marines refurbished the used toys. That changed in 1980 for 3 reasons: The Secretary of Defense’s Total Force Program, assigning Reserves a greater role in America’s defense posture. Consequently, Reservists had to dedicate weekend drill time to honing and polishing combat skills, leaving no time to refurbish toys. Secondly, public awareness of both the health and safety aspects of toys that developed during the ‘70s made distribution of used toys legally inadvisable. Third, distributing “hand me down” toys did not send the message of hope which assists in building self-esteem and, in turn, motivate less fortunate children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders.
The 90’s proved to be a turning point for the program which saw not for profit status granted which led to corporate partnerships to develop. What this meant for TFT was promotion and advertising increased as well as generating royalties. The Secretary of Defense approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the U. S. Marine Corps and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve. The program was expanded to include all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The new Millennium saw a physical and moral blow to the Armed Services in the wake of The Terrorist Attacks of September 11th, but even in the economic downturn TFT saw it’s second best year in it’s 54 year history. November 2003 Reader’s Digest named Marine Toys for Tots Foundation “America’s Best Children’s Charity”and December 2003 saw Forbes included Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in its “Gold Star List” of charities. Since 2004 the TFT Foundation has received repetitive accolades from those listed as well as appeared on many more lists of recognition for the groups accomplishments.
According to The Toys For Tots Foundation – ” Since beginning the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program in 1947, Marines have distributed more than 452 million toys to more than 209 million needy children. This charitable endeavor has made U.S. Marines the unchallenged leader in looking after less fortunate children at Christmas. Over its life span, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has supplemented local toy collections with more than 98 million toys valued at more than $694 million; plus provided promotion and support materials valued at over $8.5 million.”
What a way to give this holiday season, especially if you participate in one of the rides or parades that take place. If you would like to learn more about TFT, what you can do to help, or see if there are any events headed your way, click on the link to check out the website. Marine Toys For Tots Foundation.