TUSAYAN — The Toys for Tots program came to Tusayan last week in a Dec. 12 appearance at the Grand Canyon Best Western Squire Inn. That evening, 112 area children were treated to gifts and treats and attendance was heavy even with winter conditions outside.
“We had about twice as many as last year,” said Barry Allen, retired Marine. “Jayne (Wittman of Head Start) is largely responsible for that. She finds those kids for us.”
The Toys for Tots program in Tusayan gave out presents to 112 children in the area. Last year, the program gave presents to 43 kids under age 12.
It's the fifth year for the Toys for Tots program in Tusayan. Along with Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald also made an appearance. Ronald made the children laugh with jokes while interacting with the audience. McDonald's has been a sponsor for Toys for Tots all five years.
“It was such a miserable night (because of the weather) but we handled all of them,” Allen said. “We were somewhat concerned ... most of them lived in Valle and made that trip back and forth.”
Head Start toddlers and various other children under the age of 12 were given presents and other treats. Allen said they do a search for deserving children through various avenues, such as the school lunch program, Social Services and the Salvation Army.
Toys for Tots parties also took place in several other areas around northern Arizona on the reservation and in Flagstaff.
Last weekend in Flagstaff, Allen said about 1,300 kids were treated to gifts in just two days. Early this week, the program was headed back out to the reservation.
The Toys for Tots program started in 1947, just two years after the end of World War II. It was the vision of Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks.
It began with a "Raggedy Ann" doll handcrafted by Hendricks’ wife, Diane. She asked her husband to find a charitable organization that would deliver the doll to a needy child at Christmas.
After searching the Los Angeles area and unable to find an agency with the mission of providing toys to needy children, Hendricks organized Toys for Tots.
That first Christmas in 1947, Hendricks and a handful of Marine Corps reservists collected 5,000 toys for distribution.
The following year, the program went nationwide.
Through the years, Toys for Tots has grown from that initial collection of 5,000 toys to a present-day average of more than 8 million toys each Christmas. Marines now fulfill the dreams of more than 4 million kids annually around the United States.