Origin and Evolution of Toys for Tots
Colonel William L. Hendricks
Toys for tots Began in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks, USCR and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. The idea came form Bill’s wife, Diane. In the fall of 1947, Diane crafted a homemade doll and asked Bill to deliver the doll to an organization, which would give it to a needy child at Christmas. When Bill determined that no agency existed, Diane told Bill that he should start one. He did. The 1947 pilot project was so successful that the Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots in 1948 and expanded it into a nationwide campaign. That year, Marine Corps Reserve units across the nation conducted Toys for Tots campaigns in each community in which a Marine Reserve Center was located. Marines have conducted successful nationwide campaigns at Christmas each year since 1948. The initial objective that remains the hallmark of the program today is to “bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children”. Bill Hendricks, a Marine Reservist on weekends, was in civilian life, the Director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers Studio. This enabled him to convince a vast array of celebrities to support Toys for Tots. In 1948, Walt Disney designed the Toys for Tots logo, which we use today. Disney also designed the first Toys for Tots poster used to promote the nationwide program. Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee and Vic Damone recorded the Toys for Tots theme composed by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster in 1956. Bob Hope, John Wayne, Doris Day, Lorrie Morgan, Tim Allen, Kenny Rogers and Billy Ray Cyrus are but a few of the long list of celebrities who have given their time and talent to promote Toys for Tots. First Lady Michele Obama has been Toys for Tots number one supporter and volunteer since 2009 through mass media events, by conducting toy drives in the White House, and by volunteering to assist with the sorting of toys at local campaign warehouse sites in the Washington DC area.
From 1947 through 1979, Marines collected and distributed new and used toys. On Reserve drill weekends during October, November and December, Reserve Marines refurbished the used toys.
From Christmas 1980 through the present, Marines have collected and distributed only new toys. Three factors dictated this change. First, the Secretary of Defense’s Total Force Program, introduced in the 1970’s, assigned Reserves a greater role in America’s defense posture. As a consequence, Reservists had to dedicate every minute of weekend drill time to honing and polishing combat skills. No time was available to refurbish toys. Second, public awareness of the health and safety aspects of toys that developed during the ‘70s made distribution of used toys legally inadvisable. Third, distributing “hand me down” toys does not send the message Marines want to send to needy children. The goal is to deliver a message of hope, which will assist in building self-esteem and, in turn, motivate less fortunate children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. A shiny new toy is the best means of accomplishing this goal.
In the late 1980s, the Marine Corps determined that a non-profit charity was needed as an integral part of the overall national Toys for Tots program. Based on this need, the Secretary of Defense, in August 1991, authorized the Marine Corps to recognize and work with a charity committed to supporting Toys for Tots. Based on this approval, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation became an operational organization in September 1991 and has been the fundraising and support organization for the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program since that date.
The Foundation was able to satisfy the five needs identified by the Marine Corps. First, the Foundation could provide toys to supplement the collections of local units that had fewer Marines due to military cutbacks of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Second, the Foundation could arrange and pay for the creation, publication, manufacture and distribution of promotion and support materials to Toys for Tots Coordinators. Third, the Foundation could enable individual and corporate donors to Toys for Tots to take a charitable deduction on their income tax returns. Fourth, the Foundation could enter into contracts with corporations to conduct promotions, which would produce royalties for Toys for Tots. (Needs three and four were two important elements of this charitable endeavor that the Marine Corps, as a federal agency, could not fulfill). Fifth, the Foundation could ensure that the Toys for Tots program operates in compliance with IRS regulations, state laws and regulations and charitable standards.
In 1995, the Secretary of Defense approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the U. S. Marine Corps and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve.
In 1996, the Commander, Marine Forces Reserve expanded Toys for Tots to cover all 50 states by authorizing selected Marine Corps League Detachments and selected local community organizations (generally veteran Marine), located in communities without a Marine Reserve Center, to conduct toy collection and distribution campaigns in their communities as part of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
In 1999, the Commander, Marine Forces Reserve delegated authority to the President, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to approve and manage local Toys for Tots campaigns conducted in communities without a Reserve Unit.
2001: Despite the trauma the nation experienced as a result of the September 11th attacks in New York City, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania, the economic downturn and the anthrax scare, the 2001 U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Campaign was the second best in the previous 54 year history of the program. Local campaigns were conducted in 388 communities covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This was the most extensive coverage to date.
The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary as the fundraising and support organization for Toys for Tots in 2001. The highlights of the year were that the Foundation had its most successful campaign to date plus was ranked #289 in the 2001 “ Philanthropy 400”. This was the first time the Foundation earned a ranking in the “Philanthropy 400”.
In 2002, Charity Navigator awarded the Foundation a 4-star rating and the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked the Foundation #267 in the “Philanthropy 400”.
In 2003, the DMA Nonprofit Federation named the Foundation the “Outstanding Nonprofit Organization of the Year” for 2003. The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked the Foundation #341 in the “Philanthropy 400”. Starburst ranked the Foundation website #9 of the “Top 100 Toy Websites”. Reader’s Digest, in the November 2003 edition, named Marine Toys for Tots Foundation “America’s Best Children’s Charity”. In December 2003 edition, Forbes included Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in its “Gold Star List” of charities.
From 2004 to the present the Foundation has continued to receive, on an annual basis, the accolades noted above.
Over its life span, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has supplemented local toy collections with more than 102 million toys valued at more than $750 million; plus provided promotion and support materials valued at over $10.5 million.