More Than Just Toys

One year, an elderly lady walking very slowly with a cane passed me going into a local department store where I was standing post.

I started to give her my 30-second script, but she interrupted me and said, “Young man, you don’t have to tell me about it, I am well aware of what you’re doing,” and kept on ambling into the store.

Thirty minutes later, she came back out leaning on a shopping cart filled with toys. She started slowly unloading, and as I helped her I asked, “Ma’am, if you don’t mind me asking, what makes you want to give these toys?”

She proceeded to tell me about her deceased Marine husband who had served in WWII and who had helped with Toys For Tots every year for as long as she could remember.

She said he had died 10 years before, and she has made sure that each year she comes to donate toys in his memory. This was her own, personal memorial to her husband.

Parents often use Toys For Tots as a way of teaching their children to appreciate good fortune and realize there are other children who aren’t so lucky.

Last year, a mother approached me with three adorable triplet girls about 6 years old. She asked me if I’d explain to them why we do Toys For Tots each year. I took my time explaining it to them and answering their questions.

Then she gave them each 20 dollars, said they could buy whatever toys they wanted and come back to put it in our boxes. They all marched into the store.

Soon after, they all marched back out. Each girl had one or several items–all girly stuff, of course–that they carefully placed in the boxes. One of them nearly brought me to tears when she said to me, “Please tell those little girls we are sad they can’t have a lot of toys, but we hope these will make them happy.”

From the mouths of babes…that wasn’t actually a tear rolling down my cheek, my eyes just watered up from the cold wind…

I realized then that there’s more to Toys For Tots than just toys; the effort represents the very essence of what makes good people good–the desire to give to others.

Regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or any of the other artificial divisions we humans manage to use as wedges to common courtesy, mutual respect and kindness, good people want to help others. I choose to believe that 99 percent of humans are of this persuasion and it’s the other 1 percent who cause things to go off track.

So, this Christmas season, be part of the 99 percent. If you see some Marine-types standing outside your local businesses in front of Toys For Tots signs, stop and say hi, find out what kind of items they need, get them, and drop them in the box. Giving has never been so easy or gratifying.

You can find out lots more about Toys For Tots on their website,

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Peachtree City, Ga.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email


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