Column: Help Toys for Tots program fill growing demandSgt. William R. Abderhalden III will never forget his trip to Children’s Hospital two years ago in St. Paul.
By: John Kline, Lakeville, Minn., The Republican Eagle
Sgt. William R. Abderhalden III will never forget his trip to Children’s Hospital two years ago in St. Paul.
He was 24 years old and working on his first Toys for Tots campaign.
The mission that day for he and his fellow Marines was to deliver Christmas presents to the patients at Children’s Hospital. Most of the children they visited had been hospitalized for a long time.
Many were facing daunting odds. Some were diagnosed with terminal illnesses and quite possibly celebrating their last Christmases.
“That’s a humbling experience. These kids were worse off than the kids who normally just need toys,” said the sergeant, a Shakopee, Minn., resident who has been in the Marine Corps for seven years. “They were super excited to see us. They were more excited to see us in our Marine uniforms than they were to get toys.
“But that day there were Marines who broke down and cried. Your heart goes out to the kids who have terminal illnesses.
Abderhalden is the assistant coordinator/agency coordinator for the 2010 Toys for Tots Twin Cities drive. Twin Cities Toys for Tots distributes well more than 300,000 toys a year.
Since the Twin Cities chapter is Minnesota’s only Toys for Tots hub, the Marines often distribute toys statewide to all 87 counties which can present numerous logistical challenges.
Abderhalden oversees a staff of about 40 active duty Marines. Their Toys for Tots campaign started abnormally late this year because their unit, Marine Wing Support Squadron 471, underwent an inspection for combat readiness at the end of October. Based at the Joint Air Reserve Base in Minneapolis, Squadron 471 anticipates a deployment to the Middle East within the next two years.
This fall, when the sergeant initially expected to be briefing not-for-profit agencies on the 2010 Toys for Tots initiative and securing warehouse space for toy storage and distribution, he was preparing for an inspection instead.
“October business was pushed to mid-November,” said Abderhalden, who served as a crash-fire rescue specialist in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007.
“The pick-up schedule was pushed back, we couldn’t line up trucks as soon as we would have liked. ... Dec. 1 was the first day we could pick up toys.”
The combination of a late start for this year’s toy collection efforts and an uncertain economic climate means supply is down and demand is up this Christmas.
“I have 40 more agencies this year than I did last year and one agency requests toys for between 100 to 6,000 families,” Abderhalden said. “The magnitude of taking on 40 more agencies can mean the need for 50,000 more toys.”
Founded by members of the Marine Corps in 1947, Toys for Tots distributed toys last year to more than 7.4 million children in 691 communities nationwide.
Many of the gifts Toys for Tots provide, such as books, games and sports equipment, make a significant contribution to the educational, social, and recreational development of these children.
It is a 63-year tradition the Marine Corps proudly maintains.
“As Marines, we hold traditions dearly,” Abderhalden said. “Any tradition that I can uphold in the Marine Corps, I hold it very dear to me. It’s nice to turn on the TV and see your local Marine Corps helping the community. You don’t go into the military to go to war, you do it to serve your country and your community. It’s truly a selfless act.”
Staff Sgt. Michael Perovich, 28, lives in Coon Rapids, Minn., and is a father of three. Each year, he looks forward to seeing the joy on his kids’ faces when they open their presents on Christmas morning.
“Having three kids of my own I know how heart-breaking it would be if they didn’t have toys,” he said. “Knowing less fortunate kids will get toys for Christmas and have smiles on their faces puts a smile on your face.”
If you would like to join me in supporting the Toys for Tots effort, please bring your unwrapped toys by Dec. 18 to one of our numerous drop-off sites in Goodhue County.
To find drop-off sites near you, please visit the Toys for Tots web site at: http://
“You think a toy is so meaningless, but to them it means the world,” Abderhalden said. “No kid should wake up on Christmas to nothing.”
Republican John Kline can be reached at (952) 808-1213 or http://kline.house.gov