By Chris Faulkner
The U.S. Marines are looking for a few good toys. Well, make that thousands of good new toys, and that’s just for Des Moines County alone.
Todd Lange, a local chiropractor, leads the annual Toys for Tots drive for the Hamilton Walters Marine Corps League, and he spoke to the Rotary Club Monday about the Des Moines County drive and the national organization, which is working on its 76th Christmas.
When Lange first started as the Local Community Organizer 27 years ago, the group collected mostly used toys and served about 250 children.
Eventually, it changed to having people just donate new and unwrapped toys, which are placed in drop-off boxes in stores and restaurants around the county, as well as at the library.
There are 50 drop-off boxes in Des Moines County alone, The Hamilton Walters League also runs programs in Henry, Van Buren, and Louisa Counties in Iowa and Henderson County in Illinois.
Last year they served 2,649 children, with more than 1,000 of those living in Des Moines County.
Registration for families to receive toys goes from Nov. 20 to Dec. 1 at the Rock House on 2700 Division St., from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. The age limit is 13, although families that also have a child a year or two older can add them.
Where there used to be an income guideline, Lange said the corporate office is asking its local groups to not have any income restrictions. “We have the toys, we want to give all the kids Christmas,” Lange said.
But he said the group is still strict in other areas. “We double-check for double dippers,” he said. “We check for the kids, make sure that these are the parents of the kids or they have guardianship of the kids.”
Distribution of the toys is Saturday, Dec. 9, at Memorial Auditorium.
“We’ll have close to 900 to 950 families go through there,” Lange said, “and we’ll do that in four, four-and-a-half hours, so that’s 35-40 families every half hour.”
When families register, they get a card that tells how many kids they have, their ages, and their gender. Then they bring that card to the distribution day, and volunteers take them shopping.
“They’ll get a big toy, a small toy, a coloring book and crayons, a game, a book, and a few stocking stuffers,” Lange said.
“That sounds like a lot, but in the whole scheme, it’s only $50-60 per child.”
In addition to the drop-off boxes, Toys for Tots has a Semi of Love program on Dec. 1-2 at Westland Mall.
“We raise around $10-12,000 there, and we’ll have 150-250 boxes of toys,” Lange said.
Lange said he has many volunteers that help go out and buy toys to supplement those donated, but, “It’s hard to find stores that sell toys anymore.”
Lange said Toys for Tots is a Fortune magazine top 100 non-profit company.
“Our claim to fame is that 97 percent of the (cash) donations made to Toys for Tots are used for purchasing toys,” he said. “We have three percent used for fundraising and overhead.”
Toys for Tots has a foundation, and a generous endowment helps the organization run its operations.
Last year’s cash donations by his group totaled $36,000, but Lange said, “When you start buying toys that are $15-$30 a toy, that’s only 1,200-1,500 toys.
“We really appreciate when people bring in the toys,” he said.
Lange said there are 12 organizations that they also support, including toy drives by the Salvation Army, police and sheriff departments, churches, and community centers.
Toys for Tots first began in 1947 when a Marine Reserve Unit commander, Major Bill Hendricks, prompted by his wife, gathered up used toys for the children in their area of Los Angeles.
The next year, a commandment declared that the Marine Corps Reserves would start a nationwide Toys for Tots campaign. Lange said the U.S. Marines themselves take part as well.