A group of volunteers who have given their time to serve their country, now serve closer to home by providing Christmas gifts to children in need.
Toys for Tots, administered locally by the Cpl. Chris S. Ebert Marine Corps League Detachment #1221, is a program run by the United States marine Corps Reserve which distributes toys to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts for Christmas.
Toys for Tots started in 1947 with one Raggedy Ann doll," said Local Coordinator Alan Marston. "During the years between the wars it was used toys that the Marines would fix up. Now it's all new toys. In the United States, there are more than 800 locations for Toys for Tots, and most are facilitated by Marine Corps Leagues or Reserves."
In Rutherford County, close to 1,000 toys have been received for distribution in 2015. Those who apply to receive toys had to provide identification for themselves and their children, which act as proof that they are residents of Rutherford County.
"We collect for Rutherford County and those toys stay here to help in Rutherford County," said volunteer Bill Swope.
This is the third year Marston has volunteered, and his first in the coordinator role. It's a position that he and other volunteers find to be rewarding.
"Seeing the tears in the eyes of parents," he said, makes it worth the hours of organizing and distributing toys.
"We've gotten notes kids have written to thank Santa," said volunteer Bill Swope.
Santa's elves might not have anything on these volunteers. In the back of the Detachment's storefront at 120 W. Trade St. in Forest City are shelves lined with toys, with labels indicating boy or girl and various ages. It makes getting items into bags for families that much easier, Swope said.
When applicants return Friday and Saturday to pick up their toys, they'll find a few extras in their bags. The national push this year is literacy, Marston said, so age appropriate books are included as well as stocking stuffer items.
The community, Marston said, has been very supportive of the toy drive, providing places for more than 80 drop off points as well as financial donations.
"This county is so generous," he said.
While applications for toys are no longer being taken, those who would like to donate new, unwrapped toys may do so. For those who would like to apply for assistance next year, visit www.toysfortots.org and follow the instructions.