PALMS SPRINGS, Calif. --
Marine volunteers from the Toys for Tots Foundation and members of the Food In Need of Distribution organization held a donation drive on the night of Dec. 9 at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, Calif., to help give needy families a better Christmas with food and toys.
The Combat Center Band also put on a holiday music concert to entertain the hundreds of Palm Springs residents who attended the event.
“Tonight is one of the biggest events of the year for us,” said Maj. Brian Manifor, the Combat Center’s Toys for Tots program regional director. “These events are critical due to the nature of the economy now. Without the generosity of the surrounding community, some kids wouldn’t have a very good Christmas.”
According to the Toys for Tots Web site, http://www.toysfor tots.org, the program has been providing families with the means to have a merry Christmas since 1947, when William L. Hendricks, a retired Marine Corps Reserve colonel, and his wife came up with the idea. That year, they collected and distributed more than 5,000 toys in the Los Angeles area.
The following year, the Marine Corps adopted the official Toys for Tots program and has been running successful campaigns nationwide ever since. Toys for Tots is found in all 50 states and has distributed more than 370 million toys to more than 173 million needy children since its creation.
Manifor, a Nevada City, Calif., native, said in 2007, the Combat Center’s Toys for Tots program collected approximately 35,000 toys, which were distributed to 32,000 children in need. This year, the program has collected nearly 20,000 toys so far.
“Our Toys for Tots program is a little different because we’re so geographically spread out,” said Manifor. “We provide toys to children in 12 cities over 7,000 square miles. All toys donated in the Coachella Valley stay in the Coachella Valley, and all toys from the Morongo Basin go to needy families on base and in the other cities in the High Desert.
“We only have seven full-time Marines who are on orders from September through January, so one of our biggest sources helping us achieve our mission is MCCES [Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School],” he added. “Our mission is also accomplished with help from volunteers from the Officers’ Spouses Club, the [Robert E. Bush] Naval Hospital and active-duty Marines who help augment the force.”
The Food In Need of Distribution organization, which is the Coachella Valley’s local food bank, was also at the concert accepting donations of nonperishable food items.
“We’re here tonight to continue our food drive,” said Joanne Vilardi, FIND’s chief operations officer. “We have more than 95 agencies in the Coachella Valley and the High Desert, including the USO [United Services Organization], that work year-round to collect food for needy families.”
Vilardi added FIND collected more than 7,000 pounds of food Tuesday night, which was much more than predicted. On average, the organization feeds more than 110,000 people every month.
“It’s a great honor to be working with the Marines,” said the Saddle Brook, N.J., native. “We enjoy being included with them because we help make the children and parents happy by putting food on the table.”
To wrap up the evening, the Combat Center band put on a holiday music concert, featuring a number of Christmas and Hanukkah songs. Their performance captivated the audience, who sang along to several of the well-known holiday classics.
The Toys for Tots Foundation is continuing its donation drive through Dec. 19. All the donations will be distributed to families in need this holiday season. For more information, log on to the Toys for Tots Web site or the Combat Center Web site, http:// www.29palms.usmc.mil, then click the Toys for Tots link on the right side of the page.