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Delivering a Message of Hope

Toys for Tots brings joy to Coeur d’Alene’s children at Christmas

By Abigail Thorpe

The miniature red three-car train that’s come to represent Toys for Tots is recognizable throughout the country, but did you know that Walt Disney designed that logo over 50 years ago? The story starts in 1947 with Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks and his wife Diane. Diane asked Bill to donate some handcrafted toys to an agency that delivered toys to children in need. Bill returned to report that no such organization existed. Diane’s response? “Start one!”

In that first year, Major Hendricks and the Marines in his reserve unit in Los Angeles distributed 5,000 toys. The success resulted in an order for all Marine Reserve Sites to implement a Toys for Tots drive, launching a nationwide campaign in 1948. Major Hendricks worked as the director of public relations at Warner Brothers Studio and was a personal friend of Walt Disney, who offered to design the first Toys for Tots poster, which included the iconic three-car train Toys for Tots uses as its logo to this day.

Now, 73 years later, Toys for Tots delivers an average of 18 million toys to 7 million hopeful, less-fortunate children every year, spreading a message of hope and care to each child they touch. In 2019 in Coeur d’Alene, the Toys for Tots local Marine Corps League, Pappy Boyington Detachment No. 966, distributed 7,451 toys to 1,555 children in need.

“[We] come up with educated material and science for the older kids, and last year we gave five books each to each child. They all got books,” says local coordinator Darrell Mayer. “The kids getting toys and books helps them mental health-wise and shows them people really care about them. Mothers say how they appreciated it when they were kids.”

The Kootenai County Marine Toys for Tots is in its 24th year, and this is Mayer’s eighth year serving with Toys for Tots, his second as coordinator. Every year, the organization takes applications from families in need from November through early December. The program is geared toward helping low-income families on public assistance, as well as active military families. Families with a net income of less than 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are also eligible to participate.

This year the pandemic has changed some things for the nonprofit. Typically, outside help is welcome to come in and assist, but due to health concerns this year, anyone helping has to be a Marine Corps or auxiliary member. There are new procedures, and everyone who walks through the door has to wear a mask. For those applying for gifts, only one person from each family is allowed in at a time in an attempt to keep everyone safe.

“Toys for Tots runs a really tight ship,” explains Mayer. “They want every dollar accounted for, every toy accounted for. These toys are going to people in need and not just going anywhere.” Everyone helping out volunteers their time, and Mayer has managers for each department, including registration, stocking and fundraising.

This year, Toys for Tots is in good shape to provide toys for kids. “Kootenai County residents have come through again with lots of money, and last year we brought in a lot of toys, so we’re in great shape for the money and the toys,” says Mayer.

However, the pandemic has made it difficult to raise funds and toys for the coming year, as they have been shut down and unable to do any of their regular fundraisers. In addition, people aren’t out and about as much this year, and donations to various boxes around town aren’t as plentiful, or businesses aren’t open to host a donation box. “I don't know about next year; we don't know what's going to come in between now and next year,” explains Mayer. “People are either not accepting them (boxes) or they’re out of business.”

“We’re fortunate enough that we had money left over from last year that we could start out buying toys. Especially with this pandemic, there’s been a toy shortage, so it’s been a real struggle. I started real early buying toys to make sure I had enough.”

Most of the money this year so far has come from private individuals and organizations like the Elks and Eagles. Typically, each year, about $40,000 comes in from donations and fundraisers, but they’re only about half way this year, explains Mayer.

Toys for Tots helps make sure every child has a Christmas gift to look forward to, and donations are the only way this is possible. People can send money donations to P.O. Box 261, Hayden, ID 83835, or can donate toys in one of the drop boxes throughout town, at places like Walmart and many others stores.

Take the opportunity to give back this year—even if it’s just one small gift, it makes a difference in a child’s life. Toys are accepted until December 19 for this year, but donations are welcome any time for coming years.

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