Toys for Tots expands to Newton, Kemper counties
By By Penny Randall / staff writer
Dec. 8, 2003
U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Donald Dare has been involved in Toys for Tots in Lauderdale County for three years watching the program grow from collecting several hundred toys to collecting 3,000 last year.
This year, he serves as coordinator of the program which collects toys for needy children. He has set his goal at collecting 5,000 toys for the 2003 holiday season.
Dare spoke with The Meridian Star editorial board last week about the program and its success.
The Meridian Star: How has participation been so far this year?
Donald Dare: Last year, I thought the participation from the community and public was really good. This year has been four-fold. Everyone is so receptive about giving us information and getting the word out.
I've got a lot more calls this year than I did last year about how to help and where can they take toys. This year we've had a great response. Last year we had eight drop-off locations. This year we have 42 and that includes Newton and Kemper counties.
This year we expanded to those two counties. The idea came from last year when Newton experienced that tornado, and I still had toys that for some reason didn't get taken to the Wesley House. We loaded them up in the truck and took them over. Newton County contacted me this year and wanted to get something together.
We are participating in three counties this year. Maybe next year we'll do five or six.
The Star: How long has Toys for Tots been active in Meridian?
Dare: We started doing Toys for Tots about eight years ago in Meridian. It was spouses of Marines that started it. There's only three Toys for Tots coordinators in Mississippi Gulfport, Jackson and Meridian.
The Star: Is Toys for Tots nationwide?
Dare: Yes. Just the other morning I was watching "Live with Regis and Kelly," and they had someone on talking about Toys for Tots.
It started in Los Angeles in 1947 by a U.S. Marine. Toys for Tots is an official activity of the U.S. Marine Corps and an official mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Toys for Tots is a nonprofit organization there's no profit made. Any money donated over $250 is a tax write-off. We'll collect the money and turn it over to the headquarters to be placed in our account. Then we'll take some needy families in this area shopping before Christmas.
The Star: How long have you been active with Toys for Tots?
Dare: I've been stationed here three years, and I was active my first year here. Last year I was assistant coordinator and this year I'm the coordinator.
Five years ago, Toys for Tots was small here. Collecting 150 toys would have been a good year for them. Last year, we collected 3,000. Hopefully by the end of this weekend we'll have 3,000. My goal is 5,000. I think if I can raise 5,000 toys there's no reason any child in this area should go without a toy for Christmas.
The Star: What kinds of toys you are requesting?
Dare: New unwrapped toys. That's not to sound mean like we don't want (used) toys, but it's for health and safety reasons.
The Star: Where do the toys go?
Dare: Eighty percent of the toys go to the Wesley House. Ten percent will go to Child Protection Services in Newton and 10 percent will go to the Love Tree in DeKalb.
The Star: How many volunteers does it take to run an operation like Toys for Tots?
Dare: It takes as many as I can get. You have to realize as Marines we still have a job to do. It's difficult to do this and my job. I've been fortunate enough that my co-workers have taken up the slack so that I can do this.
This year I teamed up with the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department. I think without them I would have a lot more work. Maj. Ward Calhoun has been tremendous. It's been a real good partnership.
We've also partnered with the Marine Corps League, who have been a tremendous help. They went on radio and television to get the message out. I don't think we've left any stone unturned.
Not only do we have to get the name out there, but the message. We have to say, Hey these toys are going to needy children in your area.' We collect them and then turn them over to an organization to do the distribution in the community.
The Star: When will you be out collecting toys again?
Dare: Next weekend (Dec. 13 and 14) we'll be back out at K-B Toys, Geoffrey's and Wal-Mart. We'll also be at the front gate at NAS Meridian in the mornings.
The Star: When is the deadline to donate toys?
Dare: I'll have to stop taking toys on Dec. 14. I just don't have the storage area after that. On the 16th, they'll go to the Wesley House. And on the 16th and 17th, they'll go to Newton and DeKalb.
The Star: Will you be involved in Toys for Tots next year?
Dare: Yes, if I'm here. But I might be transferred. Any one can go to ToysforTots.org and find the directions to who the coordinator is in this area.