VEC Customers Share Grant Program Supports Toys for Tots

By Laura Spellman

The Christmas season is a time full of joy, reflection, family, faith, and gifts. However, not everyone has the privilege of experiencing the holiday season in the way it is meant to be experienced. This is an issue the U.S. Marine Corps originally recognized in 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks, along with support from members in his Marine Corps Reserve unit, collected and distributed 5,000 Christmas toys to underprivileged children. Bill’s generous act continued to grow, and the Marine Corps eventually adopted the act and expanded it nationwide; they called it the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.

With the support of millions, including celebrities like Walt Disney; Nat “King” Cole; John Wayne; Garth Brooks; Laura Bush; Michelle Obama; and many more, the program has positively impacted communities for over 75 years and is one of the largest non-profit organizations in the United States.

With about 140 locations across the nation, toy collection and distribution campaigns are conducted each Christmas season between October 1st and December 25th. During this time, thousands of economically disadvantaged children receive gifts. A Toys for Tots spokesperson said, “Last year, Marines and over 41,000 dedicated volunteers brought the joy of Christmas and sent a message of hope to over 9,900,000 less fortunate children by distributing almost 25,000,000 toys, books, and games.” A family who is a recipient of the goods from Toys for Tots demonstrates its gratitude to the program by writing, “We are truly grateful for the Marine Corps and for the many volunteers who dedicate countless hours to ensure our children, as well as many others, are able to open gifts on Christmas morning.”

In addition to recipients receiving gifts, volunteers have also been blessed by the program. “It feels great to be able to help families and children in our community,” said Crossville’s Toys for Tots Assistant Coordinator, Greg Petty. “Everyone deserves to enjoy the Christmas season without worrying about whether they will be able to have gifts under their tree,” Petty continued.

Petty adds that for families to receive goods, they can go to a Toys for Tots location, but he says goods are also delivered to local schools. Petty says the Crossville location delivers toys to children at all nine elementary schools in Cumberland County.

Because Toys for Tots is a non-profit organization, the only funds the program receives come from donations. Seeing the benefit of the program and the impact it has made in our community, VEC members helped by donating $500 to Toys for Tots through the VEC Customers Share grant, a program in which VEC members opt to have their electric bills rounded up to the next whole dollar. Though a VEC member never donates more than $0.99/month ($11.88/year), about $25,000 are collected each month for non-profit organizations across VEC’s 17-county service area.

Many local, non-profit organizations like Toys for Tots benefit from the monthly funds collected by VEC Customers Share. “Without funds from programs like VEC Customers Share, Toys for Tots would be non-existent,” said John Jones, Crossville Toys for Tots Coordinator. “If you receive your power from VEC and are not a Customers Share member, I urge you to join for the sake of your community.”

So, how can you help? To become a member of the VEC Customers Share grant program and help organizations like Toys for Tots, simply contact your local VEC office. To specifically help the Toys for Tots organization, there are several ways you can get involved: donate new, unwrapped toys to any Toys for Tots location; volunteer your time to help organize, load, and distribute toys; allow toy collection boxes at your business; advertise the organization on social media; and/or make a financial, tax-deductible donation.

Jones concluded by saying, “Making children happy—especially at Christmas—is such a rewarding feeling. I am truly blessed to be a part of this organization.”

In the words of animator and Toys for Tots logo creator, Walt Disney, “The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil.”