There’s still time to donate to Toys for Tots
— Created December 9, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Alec Brown
Many things have been disrupted this holiday season, but it’s business as usual for Toys for Tots on Whidbey Island. Donations are being accepted through Dec. 20, and better yet, what’s donated on Whidbey, stays on Whidbey.
Coordinating this effort on North Whidbey are retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Tom Bond, a member of the Oak Harbor Lions Club, and Bobbi Lornson, who is handling volunteers and toy distribution. The collection area stretches from Greenbank to Deception Pass.
Toys for Tots was founded in 1947 by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation became a registered nonprofit in 1991 and helps administer the nationwide program, which is all about providing toys to underprivileged children at Christmas.
Locally, Bond and Lornson have been coordinating this program for a while now.
“I’ve been doing it for about five years,” said Lornson. “Tom has been doing it for longer than that. There used to be a Marine Corps League here in the north end, and it has dissipated—gone away. There’s still a Marine Corps league on the South end. So currently we answer to the Marine Corps League in [Washington] D.C. with all the reporting and everything. But Tom and I are the actual sponsors right now.”
The toys received will be donated to local children around Whidbey. They provide toys to children from birth to age 18. Donations are sorted by sex and age group and each child receives three gifts and three stocking stuffers.
The process of sorting gifts out for hundreds of kids is exactly as complicated as one would think.
“It’s really hard because I don’t ask what the child wants when people donate a gift, they just donate a gift,” said Lornson. “So the child wants this specific package that I may not have. And rather than disappoint them, you know, if they tell me they like dinosaurs, then I can go in that general area—but if they want a specific thing, I don’t want them to be disappointed. It’s kinda tough, but I hope nobody is ever disappointed.”
Cash donations are used for the more difficult gifts.
“With cash, I have to go out and buy,” Lornson stated. “There are certain age groups that people don’t think of…We get a lot of trucks and superheroes and all that kind of stuff. But that 14-year-old boy isn’t gonna want that. A 1-year -old wouldn’t have a clue—he would just want the box, probably. That’s where the money goes. And also for stocking stuffers. Especially for the older ones. Nothing’s cheap when you’re 16. So I really have to look hard to find things.”
Though they have to juggle many expectations, the charity aims to deliver a balanced set of gifts.
“We try to give every family a game and book in addition to what the kids might get,” Lornson continued. “Toys for Tots is big on literacy, so books are very important to us, and a game to maybe spend some family time together.
As if it hasn’t been said enough, this year is unique. Lornson said they need more toys than ever, and it’s been a struggle to continue the charity this holiday season.
“Last week we had what we call ‘Stuff the Truck’ while we were at Walmart,” Lornson said. “They usually let us drive more often because people buy more. We had a good reception over Saturday and Sunday, but overall, I don’t believe we got what we’ve gotten in the past. And this other group that used to participate—did about 400 children—now those children aren’t always the same every year, but we’re going to have to absorb the same amount of children or more this year. So I’m not sure how all of this is going to work. Holiday House has changed its manner of doing things and is having appointments and people will drive by and pick up their bag of gifts, but there’s only so much time. So all the extras, I’m not sure how this is all going to work out.”
Despite the challenges, Lornson isn’t letting gloom get in the way of anyone’s Christmas.
“If there’s a child on the 24th that isn’t going to get presents, I will deliver them,” she stated. “I’ve been opening presents with my great-granddaughter and my family before and had somebody call and had to leave. I say ‘I’ll be back!’ Tom and I get the toys and drive them out. Can you picture them not seeing anything? I can’t. I want a smile on every child’s face on Christmas.”
Help is still needed this year. Lornson only has one volunteer—and the two of them have to do an entire elf workshop’s worth of work.
“I don’t get a lot of volunteers,” she said. “We’re in a shed, we have a heater—it’s not the most comfy thing in the world I guess.”
In the end, said Lornson, the Toys for Tots effort is a collaboration among groups, not a competition.
“In the past, people thought we were competing, like Holiday House and Toys for Tots—we’re not,” she stated. “We’re the backers for these groups and we give toys to everybody. Each toy we give out puts a smile on a child’s face, and can there be any greater gift to ourselves than to put that smile on their face?”
Those interested can donate new, unwrapped toys at the Navy Exchange, Walmart, Country Store, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Navy Federal, Best Friends Veterinary Center and Pacific Indoor Tactical. Monetary donations are accepted and should be made out to Toys for Tots and can be mailed to 2419 Loerland Lane, Oak Harbor, WA 98277. To volunteer, arrange a pick-up, or sign up to receive gifts, call 360-679-4326 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.