MANKATO — Marine Corps veteran Pam Hammock, of Le Sueur, has a holiday wish related to the local Toys for Toys campaign she coordinates.
“When families come in to pick up gifts, I sometimes say, ‘You know, we never get to see the children open them.’”
Hammock does recall a time when she and her fellow volunteers in the “spirit of giving” holiday program were treated to a visual reward.
“A family sent us a video of their 3-year-old opening his gift. We really cherish it.”
Mankato area Toys for Tots organizers are accepting applications through Dec. 16 from families struggling to afford toys and other items for their younger members.
“As of Nov. 23, 763 families have applied and after Thanksgiving the number will really start increasing — that’s when families start thinking about Christmas.”
She said last year the program helped 3,090 children. Hammock is in her third year of overseeing the Marine Corps League’s area efforts.
“Each Toys for Tots campaign is assigned an area, mine is Blue Earth County, Le Sueur County, Waseca County and Nicollet County. All of the monetary donations collected within my area stay within those four counties, and all the toys collected go to kids in those four counties.”
This year, due to COVID-19, all requests for gifts must be submitted online.
Procedures for collecting and distributing donations also have changed this year to include health safety measures during the pandemic.
The Toys for Tots website listing of drop-off sites is being updated frequently to help prevent donors from going to business locations temporarily closed to the public.
Toy donations may be dropped off at collection sites through Dec. 16 and monetary donations may be made online.
Hammock said area communities have really stepped up to help this year. She credited recent virtual and “stuff-a-truck” events and the owner of a building on Madison Avenue.
“We asked the owner if he had any plans for the building and if he was willing to let us use it. He said it was open after Nov. 10 and we said ‘perfect.’”
The 2020 distribution will be a drive-up event at the seasonal location of Halloween Express on Madison Avenue.
Gift distributions will begin Dec. 19. Approved applicants will be notified of specific distribution dates and locations.
The local campaign’s ambassadors are former and retired Marines.
“The Marine Corps League is a bunch of us Marine vets who like to sit around and chew the fat, tell some war stories,” Hammock said.
She was in active service when an officer “inducted” her into Toys for Tots participation.
“My Gunny (gunnery sergeant) said, ‘You will do this.’”
She mentioned a similar practice that finds volunteers among people who have signed up and are waiting to get into a boot camp. Mankato’s Marine Corps recruiter instructs those “poolees” to help with collecting and distribution.
Sometimes, while Marines are following their orders to bring holiday cheer to needy families, they get to witness the act of someone “paying it forward,” Hammond said.
A young father brought his children, who were bearing gifts, to a collection event last year at a Cambria site. He expressed his gratitude for the Toys for Tots presents under his family’s tree when he was a boy, then added that he wanted his children to know the experience of giving.