It was beginning to look like Christmas for several thousand children last Thursday.
Between the local U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program and Wishing Tree, more than 2,000 youngsters in four communities received toys made possible by hundreds of residents, many of whom live in a three-county area.
Volunteers with the local Toys for Tots program began distributing toys last week at the Oats Park Gym. Coordinator Chris Hansberry said the program received 350 requests, but the number of children per request varies.
“We’ll have about 2,000 children, which is up from last year,” he said, adding the number of donated toys more than tripled the number of boys and girls who are on the lists. Hansbury said the city of Fallon donated the gym for the weeklong distribution for hundreds of gift-wrapped bags. Volunteers from the community, Naval Air Station Fallon and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve collected, wrapped and/or distributed toys.
Kellie Kalista, assistant coordinator, said Toys for Tots made its goal with many volunteers working long hours to make the holidays brighter for youngsters in Churchill County, the Fernley and Silver Springs area and Gabbs. Between Thanksgiving and the weekend of Dec. 16-17, the Toys for Tots parked its two trucks at several locations in Fallon and Fernley. Collection boxes wrapped with the familiar red Toys for Tots signage were placed at scores of businesses.
“We were able to make our goal,” said Kalista, “and we still have toys coming in.”
Kalista said older girls requested make-up kits, while the boys wanted sports-related toys. For the younger children, she said boys love remote cars, and the girls prefer Barbie or baby dolls.
“We always get requests for bikes,” she said, looking at the wide assortment of both boys’ and girls’ bicycles.
High Desert Detachment Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots golf tournament in July helped raised about $1,400 for the program. The tournament included 39 participants that resulted in nine teams of four and one team of three.
Parents who picked up toys expressed their appreciation to the community for making Christmas a happy time for their children.
“It’s a good organization for people who can’t have Christmas for their kids,” said Robert, who like many parents, did not give a last name.
Heather said her husband, who had served in the U.S Marines, died this year. She eventually moved to Fernley to stay with a friend and her husband.
“This brings some hope,” she said, after picking up a bag of toys for her 8-year-old son.
The Toys for Tots program was founded by a U.S. Marine Corps reservist in Los Angeles in 1947. Volunteers collected about 5,000 toys during its first campaign before Christmas 1947. Since that time, the program has grown to thousands of communities in every state.
Wishing Tree handed out toys on Thursday to 143 families who were adopted by community members.
“It’s about average of where we have been the last couple of years,” said Holly Meader, office specialist and program coordinator with Churchill County Social Services. “We have a couple of new requests, but the majority are returning families.”
Wishing Tree, with help provided by the Independent Pioneer Telephone Association (CC Communications) for the past 25 years, assisted Social Services. Dawn Ballard, a human resources generalist with CC Communications, is one of the organizers of the Wishing Tree program.
“Banner Churchill Community Hospital took 40 names right off the top,” Ballard said. “We had one tree up at CC Communications, and people were coming in and taking off the ornaments.”
Meader said each ornament or angel, which represented a request, was adopted before the deadline, but she said the interest to donate toys or help remains high.
“We’ve also encouraged people to take their donations to Toys for Tots,” Meader said. “Highland and Homestead (assisted living facilities) had trees for the elderly.”
Ballard said the community support is overwhelming.
“This year is great,” she said “Every gift that came in had an (clothing) outfit. It made it easier to put the bags together. The generosity within this community is amazing.”
Nancy Tranchina has volunteered with the program for 10 years and agrees.
“It is the spirit of Christmas,” she said.
Likewise, J.D. Nicholson has been a volunteer for 13 years and became involved with Wishing Tree before his mother retired from CC Communications.
“Someone has to have Christmas, he said, when asked why he continues to volunteer. “No matter how tough it is, the community comes together.”
Catrina, a parent of three children, said she also used Wishing Tree last year.
“It’s a blessing,” she said of the community program.” It’s good they help out the kids at Christmas.”