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Toys for Tots event
Posted in , on December 5, 2023

Toys will go to local kids in need

Hardly anything could beat the excitement last week in Arlington’s entertainment district. No, the new World Series champion Texas Rangers weren’t there. Nor were the Cowboys.

Although the pro teams’ stadiums were in view, the nearby Dr. Marcelo Cavazos Center for Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) took center stage for the festivities. There, hundreds of people braved the chilly weather to attend Arlington ISD’s 2023 Toys for Tots – an event designed to collect loads of toys for local kids in need.

The nearly six-hour-long event kicked off at 5 p.m. and included musical performances from students – from elementary through high school. Throughout the evening, people drove their cars up to the building’s entrance – all decked out with red and green lighting – and dropped off toys.

Arlington resident Mike Brown, a U.S. Army retiree, pulled up in his red truck with a variety of toys stacked inside the trunk. He and his wife Sherrie have donated to Toys for Tots for more than 10 years. The 66-year-old said he just had to stop by after hearing about the event in passing.

“I just do it from the bottom of my heart to give to kids that might not be able to have anything,” Brown said. “That’s the main purpose.”

After all, nearly 75% of Arlington ISD’s students are from low-income families, so the need is great.

Brown and the other donors were met with thunderous applause by hundreds of students and volunteers. These included members of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi and sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Sigma Gamma Rho, who also donated toys. They also helped unload the goods from vehicles, placing the many items onto large trucks provided by AT&T, one of the event’s sponsors.

Omega Psi Phi member Joseph Williams, who moved to Texas from North Carolina in 2018, was among the participants.

“Any event that you are helping the community is always tremendous,” Williams said. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re all here for the service at the end of the day.”

Continuing a legacy

Toys for Tots distributed an unprecedented 24.4 million toys, books and games to 9.9 million disadvantaged children with the help of more than 50,000 volunteers in 2022. The organization relies on volunteers like Williams and sponsors to collect and distribute toys for less fortunate children.  

The program began 76 years ago as the brainchild of Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks, who was inspired by his wife, Diane. At the time, Diane had several handcrafted dolls and had asked Bill to deliver them to an agency that supports children in need.

Lisa Montgomery, the Arlington event’s assistant director, is happy to be a part of Hendrick’s legacy. She has participated in the event for the past 14 years.

 “I love Christmas!” said Montgomery, who was dressed as an elf. “It’s not about a person or big foundation. It’s all about the kids and making sure every kid gets a little Christmas. It’s not about having 20 toys, it’s about having two, three, four or five toys.”

Montgomery was thrilled by the event’s turnout.

“It’s a good feeling to see it all come to fruition and come together the way it should. To get the community, the participation, all the cars,” she said.

Local toy collection campaigns begin in October with community members dropping new, unwrapped toys in collection boxes positioned in local businesses and schools. Then toy distribution takes place mid- to late-December. 

James Renfro, AT&T’s national lead for Toys for Tots, explained that coordinators pick up these toys and store them in central warehouses where the toys are sorted by age and gender. At Christmas, coordinators – with the assistance of local social welfare agencies, church groups and other local community agencies – distribute the toys to the less fortunate children of the community.

Renfro, who began mapping out details for the toy drive back in February, said, “I told my boss recently that if she asked me to stop, I couldn’t stop.”

“It’s just one of those things that get in your heart and head. I eat, sleep and breathe Toys For Tots,” said Renfro, who was dressed as the character Woody from the “Toy Story” films.

He wasn’t the only one in uniform while handling boxes of toys. At each Toys for Tots event – regardless of the city or school district – U.S. Marines are there helping. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation – a nonprofit charity established in 1991 – helps run and support the program.

Corporal Alexander McCarthy, a three-year Marine from Lubbock, said there was no way he could miss the event. The 23-year-old said he first wanted to become a Marine around the age of seven. He loves participating in the toy drives every year.

“I love it … Personally, myself, I grew up in a background that was like that. So, it hits a little bit closer to home,” McCarthy said.

Montgomery said having Marines like McCarthy serve at Toys for Tots drives is a bonus for Arlington ISD students.

“They can see someone younger almost their age … especially high school students can see them active and doing other things,” she said.

Setting the mood

The students who attended the toy drive even got a chance to meet Santa. Well, Dallas resident Marcus Wells, a local logistics company owner who has spent the past five years serving as Old St. Nick for Toys for Tots.

“It’s awesome to change that narrative for kids that don’t have,” Wells said. “Making sure kids have something for Christmas because it is a festive time of the year … It keeps me coming back.”

Students from across the district helped put everyone in the Christmas spirit with festive musical performances. Elementary students from Butler, Larson, Webb, Hill and Swift, along with a choir from Sam Houston High School, shared their beautiful voices. And bands from Lamar and Seguin high schools, along with an orchestra from Boles Junior High, performed classic Christmas tunes.

Bridgette Allbright was thrilled to watch her daughter Savannah, a Boles seventh grader, play her viola at the event. She was shocked that the very reserved Savannah, 12, responded to her orchestra director’s request to have students volunteer to participate in the event.

“I’m glad that she did it,” Allbright said. “It’s great that she is giving back to the community … It is something that I never thought I’d see my daughter do.”

“It was fun … A nice experience,” Savannah said about playing “Up on the Rooftop” and “Jingle Bells.”

Arlington ISD interim superintendent Dr. Stephen Wurtz was overwhelmed by the students’ participation and enthusiasm for the event.

“It’s fantastic,” Wurtz said. “We teach our students in the classroom, not only academics but how to be model citizens. And this is just an example of them giving back to their community and helping each other out.”