The Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots annual holiday campaign is under way to provide Christmas cheer for children who might not otherwise receive gifts this year.
“We have this huge empty space ready to be filled with toys,” said Agnes Samples, St. Vincent de Paul executive director. “The boxes, tables and shelves are completely empty.”
Nearly 10,000 square feet of space was donated by the Montana Rescue Mission for the St. Vincent de Paul Toy Store, a venue for toys collected during the annual campaign. St. Vincent de Paul has partnered with the program for more than a decade.
Tuesday, the Montana State University Billings basketball team assembled shelves and tables to display toys in the store at 21 S. 29th St. Last week, 25 volunteers from the Montana Conservation Youth Corps cleared the space that the Mission was using as storage for its Bargain Store.
Vickie Massie, volunteer coordinator, said about 200 people volunteered 2,000 hours last year.
“This takes a community coming together to bring Christmas to struggling families,” Massie said. “But that is what the holiday season is all about — it’s a time of giving.”
Last year, the program gave more than $30,000 in gifts, five gifts per child, to about 700 families in Yellowstone County, Toys for Tots area coordinator Staff Sergeant Luis AlonzoMiranda said. They hope to receive about the same amount this year.
“If we take the time and make the efforts necessary to bring joy and happiness to our children then we will instill in them so much more than the obvious joy and satisfaction of having a new toy,” AlonzoMiranda said. “We will let them know through our actions that there are groups and organizations that do care about them, have not forgotten them and will help them in their time of need.”
The program is seeking donations of new, unwrapped toys for all ages. Samples said people are quick to donate toys for younger kids and sometimes forget about teens.
Samples suggested iTunes and other gift cards, iPods, headphones, bikes, makeup, handbags and sporting equipment for teenagers.
She said the program also aims to provide basic items such as warm winter clothing.
The program has received 230 applications for the toy program and will be accepting applications through Dec. 15. Families can apply through Family Service Inc.
“All you have to do is ask,” Samples said. “It’s really that easy.”
The store opens for gift shopping by appointment to accepted families Dec. 17 through 21.
Families can shop for their kids with the guidance of “Santa’s helpers,” who will help find the perfect gifts for their children. Families will be given wrapping paper, tape and decorative bows to wrap the gifts.
“We want to give them Christmas, not just a toy,” Samples said.
As items are picked from the shelves, volunteers will be busy restocking, giving families that show up on the last day the same opportunities as those who attend on the first day.
This year, there are more than 100 toy drop-off locations in Yellowstone County, AlonzoMiranda said. People can also make monetary donations on the Billings Toys for Tots Web site. He said all donated money is spent locally.
“I hope that the community will continue to take an active role in this unique campaign because it focuses on our future — the children,” AlonzoMiranda said.
For more information, call St. Vincent de Paul at 406-252-1855 or visit billings-mt.toysfortots.org/