Santa makes a list and checks it twice, making sure there is something for all the good girls and boys to open on Christmas morning.
Obviously, Santa has plenty of helpers. The elves, sure, but Mom and Dad can take care of a lot of the heavy lifting for him, too. So what happens when the rent is due, the oil tank is empty, and Mom only worked 18 hours the week before Christmas?
Santa sends in the Marines.
The Marine Corps has been making sure there are presents under Christmas trees almost as long as Santa himself, courtesy of the Toys for Tots program. Ret. Maj. Eugene Weller marshals the troops and organizes the donation drive with precision and passion.
This year, he is joined by an honorary chairman, Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick, of Pine Grove Mills, who’s learning to live with prosthetic legs after being wounded in Afghanistan.
For one month, with collection boxes at retailers and other organizations throughout the area, Toys for Tots will collect enough new, unwrapped gifts to bring a little holiday sparkle into the lives of kids who need all the seasonal spirit they can find.
The Lemont-based local group serves underprivileged children from seven Centre County food banks (Howard, Philipsburg, Snow Shoe, Potter, Millheim, Bellefonte and State College). That’s about 2,000 to 3,000 kids getting the target of four presents per child.
Then you add in the extras, the foster children and kids involved in other service agencies, like those sheltering through the Women’s Resource Center, for another 6,000 to 7,000. Overall, Weller said, it can go up to about 10,000 kids.
That is a lot of toys to be acquired by Dec. 15, the last day to get gifts over to The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. Presents will be wrapped there, and the public is welcome to cut paper and tie ribbons — and if you have a spare roll of wrapping paper to bring along for the cause, even better.
In addition to toys, the group also accepts monetary donations, which are used to purchase gifts for the age groups least likely to have presents dropped off, like those under 2 or over 10. Donations can be made online at http://lemont-pa.toysfortots.org.
For Weller and his upwards of 1,000 volunteers, the best part of giving can be what they get out of it themselves.
“Just knowing that you are providing hope and joy for these children, that’s what makes it worth it,” he said.