Families come out for annual Marines Toys for Tots event

·4 min read

Dec. 16—Kokomo resident Jasmine Jones picked up a board game, looked it over and then put it into a nearby sack as she walked around looking for toys for her four young children at the Marines Toys for Tots event Thursday at UAW 685.

"I feel like this past year's been rough on a lot of people," Jones said as she peered at a table full of action figures, "not just me. So to have something like this (Marines Toys for Tots), I'm just really grateful to have something to kind of help with Christmas. Kids are expensive, and so to have this is a real blessing."

And for several years now, Goodfellows of Kokomo, the Marines Toys for Tots and Kokomo's Fraternal Order of Police have partnered together to help local families who are in need of a little extra assistance during the holiday season, providing both clothes and toys in the process.

According to Kim Graves, president of Goodfellows, families qualify for assistance each year through an application process and must meet verification steps that allow them to be able to participate in one of two programs: either the Goodfellows and Toys for Tots program, or Cops 4 Kidz — which is happening Saturday.

Families who qualify are then allotted a certain amount of money based on the ages and number of children in each family, Graves added, with those families then being able to shop for clothes at Kohl's and toys at the UAW.

This holiday season alone, Goodfellows and its partnership organizations have been able to help over 1,400 children and 500 families — numbers that make Graves proud.

"I think every community needs something like this," she said as families gathered inside the UAW on Thursday morning to pick out some toys. "What are the families going to do if they can't provide Christmas for their kids? No child wants to wake up and have nothing underneath their tree. So if we can provide a smile to that child ... Why not make sure that every child doesn't do without?

"By providing this, I think it draws the community together," Graves added. "I think everybody knows, 'Hey, this year is going to be a struggle. My bills are crazy. I'm not going to be able to buy Christmas. ... But I know there are programs out there. I just need to know how to get ahold of those programs.' ... I think it gives them less stress. Christmas is stressful, and if we can take that off of their shoulders, it's a good thing."

U.S. Marines Gunnery Sgt. Michael Walmsley has been the Toys for Tots coordinator in Howard County for the past four years, and he agreed with Graves, adding that he believes the biggest gift the Marines Toys for Tots event can give a family is hope.

"From Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, it's just the kids sitting on the school bus every single day talking about what they're going to get for Christmas," he said. "And then you have a few children that don't know if they're going to get anything. We're here for those children. I can't explain how good it feels to see these families walk in here. We don't often see the children, but we see the parents. And some of those parents even come in tears because they're just so grateful."

But it's not just Goodfellows, the Marines Toys for Tots and the Kokomo FOP — which helps with the Cops 4 Kidz event — that deserve recognition for their role in providing smiles to children's faces this holiday season, Walmsley noted.

Businesses such as Meijer, Walmart and Sam's Club donate grants, the UAW donates its building for toy distribution, and companies such as Chrysler Kokomo Transmission Plant donate funds, he said.

In other words, Walmsley added, it's a real community affair.

"Everything we receive is locally donated, and it goes to a local family," he said. "It's local. ... And everything that we have left over gets to someone that needs it, whether those are people at the Kokomo Rescue Mission, CASA or Bona Vista. It goes to someone in need of a little extra assistance this holiday season. ... We're all in this together. Those are always nice words to say, but this is actually showing what that phrase means."

Kim Dunlap can be reached at 765-860-3256 or at kim.dunlap@kokomotribune.com.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting