Christmas holds the gamut of memories for each individual. The pleasant ones include candlelight midnight services, stockings by the chimney, favorite carols, candy, and of course, Santa’s secret deposit of toys under the tree. Too many children, however, shudder at the thought of Christmas: no stockings, no candy, no Santa with toys, no food. Toys for Tots steps in to alleviate some of those memories. The familiar organization, mobilized in 2003 in Coronado that gained traction in 2006, is spear headed by Col Michael Wastila USMCR, a life-long resident of Coronado, who devotes time throughout the year to assure the program is effective. As the Coronado coordinator, he is responsible to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation for planning, organizing, and conducting the local campaign.
“This year marks the 73rd year of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, originated in 1947 by a group of Reservists that collected and distributed toys to needy children of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. The program has grown over the years to become the Marine Corps’ premier community action program and one of the nation’s flagship holiday charitable causes,” says Wastila.
From the national Toys for Tots website, “Over the years, Marines have established close working relationships with social welfare agencies, churches and other local community agencies which are well qualified to identify the needy children in the community and play important roles in the distribution of the toys.”
While Coronado has always generously donated to the program, this year remains a question since the regular gatherings and parties to collect toys will be severely curtailed because of restrictions with COVID-19. New, unwrapped toys will be collected from now until Friday, Dec. 18, and may be dropped off at the following collection sites: Ascent Property Management (formerly Lee Mather Realty), 944 Orange Avenue; Business Products Express, 1019 C Avenue; Crown City Cigars, 1136 Loma Avenue.
Some Toy Drives are still planned by groups in town who host them annually. VFW Post 2422 will host a Toy Drive-by on Nov. 28 from 2 to 3 p.m. in the VFW Parking lot, 557 Orange Ave located in the alley. Toy donations will be collected at tournament check-in for the Coronado Men’s Golf Club December Past Presidents Memorial Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 5. The Marine Corps League Annual Golf Cart Parade on Sunday, Dec. 6, will start at 3 p.m. with the procession from Sunset Park to Speckles Park where toy donations will be collected. The Rotary Club of Coronado has not announced the date of their event.
Having your small group and family gatherings aware of the need may make a difference in the number of toys Coronado can assemble this year. Solicit a collection of toys for the Thanksgiving dinner guests, no matter how few people attend. Ask friends to drop a toy by your house when they stop by. Toys are collected for children up to 18 years old. Balls of all kinds and dolls are always good choices, but stuffed animals, pull toys, trucks and cars, and books, are also appreciated by the younger children.
Gifts for pre-teens and teenagers may be more difficult. A few suggestions are sporting equipment/bags/balls, backpacks, cosmetics, purses, watch or wallet gift sets, bath gift sets, board games, radio control cars/trucks, hand-held electronics, skateboards/helmets, curling irons, hair straighteners, and hair dryers. Wastila stresses, “Your thoughtfulness will help make a difference in the lives of San Diego County’s most needy children this Christmas season.”
Coronado toys are stored in central warehouses at Reserve Center Miramar where they are sorted by age and gender. In 2019, Coronado businesses and residents donated over 3000 toys. According to the Toys for Tots San Diego web site, “The toys distributed by San Diego during yearly campaigns, are not viewed only as simple gifts, these bring joy and hope to all children in need. Hope is key, and hope is what the Marine Corps can give through the Toys for Tots program. We are delivering a message of hope to less fortunate children in hope that this will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens…. We work with about 250 non-profit organizations throughout the San Diego County. We provide the toys to the organizations, and the organizations enroll the families and distribute the toys to the children. We do not distribute toys directly.”
Social workers have lists of needy families who are recipients, but group homes and Polinsky Children’s Center for foster children, also, receive gifts to distribute. When I was the English teacher at Polinsky, the teachers could select a toy for each of their homeroom students for a Christmas party the last day of school before the holidays. For our party, I took in treats, and we did the Chinese Auction for the gifts. All went well until one teenage girl selected a 2-foot white stuffed bear and refused to relinquish it when another student chose to take it. After a few seconds of tension, I announced that in the spirit of Christmas we would allow her to keep it. After one “That’s not fair” comment, the class nodded, and we proceeded with the game. I knew the history of only a few of my students, but not that particular student. Her reasons for clinging to the bear were hers, and I was not going to intrude. The party was a spot of joy for those teenagers who were separated from their families for a multitude of reasons.
After retirement I volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and I saw the gift of a football bring smiles to a 15-year-old boy. The Toys for Tots drive alleviates some of the stress for families who cannot afford extras, as well as foster children in private or group homes. Coronado is fortunate to have Col Michael Wastila USMCR with his persistence and passion to promote the Toys for Tots campaign.