A group of six Marine Corps League members walked into the administrative offices of Lycoming College Friday morning.
Decked with red jackets sporting the United States Marine Corps logo and hats that said Toys for Tots, these veterans of the Williamsport Detachment #388 had one thing in mind, how many bags would they need to collect the pile of toys surrounding the college’s Christmas tree?
It’s a common task for these veterans and others in the Marine Corps across the nation.
The Lycoming County Toys for Tots branch was founded in the 1980s through the coordination of Charles E. “Chuck” Smith and his wife Betty Smith.
“What we’re doing is giving this family toys for their children,” Smith said. “Santa Claus might not come to see them but by golly he does, we see that he does.”
The couple helped to found the current iteration of the Lycoming County Toys for Tots in the mid 1980s. It was shortly after Smith had moved to Williamsport and he decided he wanted to do something for the low-income children and families within the community.
At first, Smith and his wife ran the operation out of their two-car garage. Packing hundreds of gifts and boxes into the small space. For the first few years, the pair would even wrap the individual gifts for the children.
In the 1980s, roughly 100 Toys for Tots boxes were placed in local businesses throughout the community. Today over 300 boxes are spread across the region, according to Jacob Bertin, assistant coordinator for the Lycoming County Toys for Tots.
The national Toys for Tots was founded by Major Bill Hendricks in 1947. Over 5,000 toys were delivered to children in the first year. In 2018, 6 million toys were distributed nationwide.
In Lycoming County, the Salvation Army is the primary distributor of the toys, filling it’s gymnasium with bags labeled for kids of different ages.
“We do it to help the lower income families with children,” Smith said. “I can’t think of any reason why we have to do it, it’s just that we want to do it.”
Broken or used toys are not accepted by Toys for Tots, according to Bertin. In addition, toys representing guns, knives or any other weapons are not permitted.
The last day to place toys in the boxes is Dec. 13.