The United States Marine Corps and the Navajo Nation have had a special relationship since the “Code Talkers” of World War II fame. In 1980, Mobilization Training Unit (MTU) CA-16 (Los Angeles Public Affairs), the original 1947 Toys for Tots unit, took on the responsibility of collecting, transporting, and distributing toys to the Navajo Nation and later to other Native American tribes. Over the years, the MTU grew smaller and was eventually disbanded. At that time, the mission was taken over and conducted by the Toys for Tots Native American Program; a Local Community Organization (LCO) based in Laguna Niguel, California, and made up by two former MTU CA-16 Marine Corps Officers. This organization works under the direction of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in support of the United States Marine Corps.
A traditional Toys for Tots program involves the collection of toys in a community, and the distribution of those toys to underprivileged children in that same community. Because there were no large population centers near the Navajo Nation that could support a traditional toy program, the Navajo Toys for Tots Program was started in order to provide needed toys to more than 60,000 (1990 census) Navajo children. The Navajo Nation is approximately 25,000 square miles and nearly as large in size as Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire combined. The Navajo Reservation is located mostly in Arizona and New Mexico with a small portion extending into Colorado and Utah. In 1997 the name of the program was changed from the Navajo Toys for Tots to the Native American Toys for Tots because of the addition of the children on the Ramah Navajo (NM), Hopi (AZ), White Mountain Apache (AZ) and Acoma (NM) Reservations as toy recipients, who are the traditional neighbors of the Navajo. In the ensuing years, the following reservations were added to the program: San Carlos Apache (AZ - 2001); Hualapai (AZ - 2002); Pascua Yaqui (AZ - 2003); Zuni (NM - 2004); Tohono O’odham (AZ); Ely Shoshone (NV - 2005), Duckwater Shoshone (NV - 2005); Gila River (AZ - 2006); Salt River (AZ - 2006) Colorado River Indian Tribes (AZ - 2007). The Native American Toys for Tots Program has provided countless toys and books to the reservations for over 30 years, and actively supports the First Lady of the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Literacy Program.
The Toys for Tots Native American Program is unique in that it is the only Toys for Tots Program whose primary mission is to move toys out of the toy collection area, and reach out to needy Native American children on their Reservations. This involves the collection of toys, primarily in California; the transportation of the toys to various Native American Reservations, primarily in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada; and the distribution of the toys, with the assistance of the various Reservation Police Departments, to Native American children. Toys have also been distributed to tribes in Wyoming, Oklahoma, California, Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Nevada,
New Mexico, and Minnesota through a close working relationship with the Walking Shield Organization and through other Toys for Tots Coordinators.
For over three decades the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Native American Program has delivered toys and books to the Navajo, Ramah Navajo, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, Hualapai, Pascua Yaqui, Zuni, Tohono O’odham, Colorado River Indian Tribes and other Native American children on their reservations. The Children served by the Native American TFT Program are some of the most underprivileged children in our country. Many of them are living on Reservations which are home to some of the worst poverty in the world and in deficient housing with no plumbing, sewer, or septic.
When this Program first started there were very few toys available for distribution on the Reservations. Working with the Reservation Police Departments, who pick up the toys in California (approximately 50 volunteers), we distributed over 95,000 toys to over 65,000 children during Christmas 2009. This was only possible because of the outstanding cooperation and continued toy contributions that we receive from approximately 20 Marine Corps Reserve Units in California, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and St. George, Utah (LCO). Over the past several years the preponderance of toys and books have come from the Toys for Tots Foundation and Corporate Sponsors. The Arizona National Guard has been instrumental in the past by providing military trucks, troops and the use of their facility at Camp Navajo, AZ. They are now also providing storage for the toys in ammunition bunkers.
In addition to the toys and books that are given out by the Reservation Police Departments, the Native American Committee picks one location for a “Big Toy Giveaway” that is open to all children and their families. This event rotates amongst the various reservations. In June of 2002, Lieutenant General Matthew Cooper 9President and CEO of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation) recognized the Native American Toys for Tots Program as one of the elite programs in the country, and as the 2001 Local Community Organization of the year.
Cable Television Station NNTV-5 (Navajo Cable Station) has made a TV documentary about the Toys for Tots Native American Program in both 2002 and 2003.
Peter C. Tagni, Lieutenant Colonel, USMCR (Ret)
Coordinator, Toys for Tots Native American Program
Laguna Niguel, California
Telephone # 949-364-5531
For donations by check, mail checks made payable to Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to:
Lt Col Peter Tagni
Coordinator, Toys for Tots Native American Program
PO Box 3768, Mission Viejo, CA 92690