By Shari Valenta
Last month, two nonprofit organizations, The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots Foundation and Operation Independence, teamed up to spread a message of hope during the holidays for less fortunate children and homesick soldiers. The combined forces gathered toys for needy children, as well as over 4,000 civilian rations for American troops currently serving our country overseas. The c-rats were in the form of holiday treats; also enclosed were personal handwritten festive notes from youngsters thanking troops for their efforts in the war.
TFT collects unwrapped toys each October through December for donation. The toys are offered as Christmas gifts in the community where the campaign was conducted. TFT is intended to send a message of hope to the children to motivate them to be responsible citizens and community leaders in the future.
Operation Independence is a civilian-to-military delivery system designed to keep armed forces well trained and on the line by assisting America in supplying, preparing and posting civilian rations to the heroes overseas.
To accomplish the mission of making the delivery, a Cessna Citation was employed to collect supplies from 19 cities and 18 states in only seven days. Captain Mark, Captain Randy and Marine Ed from RTL Group, LLC, a Minnesota-based manufacturing business promoting the drive, flew the plane to help the two organizations achieve their goal. With the help of the U.S. Postal Service, OI sent four boxes containing over 200 c-rats from each state. The boxes were distributed to all four branches of the armed forces. In doing this, citizens conveyed a sense of appreciation for the tireless efforts the troops performed throughout the holiday season.
OI normally delivers 50,000 c-rats each month. The yield of over 4,000 c-rats (about 1,000 for each branch of service) was delivered at the Christmas Rush tour as an added seasonal bonus. TFT also collected homemade rag dolls from Houston. The dolls were made to commemorate the names of 10 soldiers in each state who lost their lives in the current conflict. TFT began with the commemorative rag doll in 1947; Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR, and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys for impoverished children. In the autumn of that year, Hendricks’s wife, Diane, handmade a Raggedy Ann doll to donate to an agency that provided toys at Christmas. Because none existed, Hendricks started his own organization that has expanded into a nationwide campaign.
The drive, like many military procedures, was conducted with a formality of pomp and decorum. At each pick-up point, there was a small ceremony in which both organizations officially transferred the toys and the boxes of c-rats. The representatives and supporters from both organizations and Marines in dress blues attended the function. Present at each flight was a high school student who previously won community awards for introducing OI into their school district and community. The role of the student was to act as a spokesperson for the flight.
The tour commenced with an event with the OI dragster, “The American Dream” in Saint Paul, Minn., at the downtown airport on December 4 and returned Friday, December 10, welcomed by a celebration attended by local St. Paul dignitaries. On December 8, the cause made its stop at Centennial Airport, where the ceremony was held at the Perfect Landing Restaurant at Denver jetCenter.
Everyone should congratulate the efforts of TFT and OI for their ambitious good deeds that surely touched many downtrodden souls during the holidays.
For more information regarding Operation Independence, visit www.oidelivers.org, and to find out more about the Marine Toys For Tots Foundation, visit [http://www.toysfortots.org/].