The 28th annual Centre County Toys for Tots campaign kicked off Monday with a breakfast at the Ramada Inn, and this year’s honorary chairman had a message for the audience.
Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick, a Pine Grove Mills native, drew a standing ovation from the crowd as he was introduced by program Chairman Gene Weller.
Hartswick, paraphrasing the goal of Toys for Tots in his remarks, said the organization strives to send a message of hope to underprivileged children to help them become responsible and patriotic citizens.
“Let’s give some hope to the next generation,” he said.
Hartswick knows about the power of hope. The State College native and State High graduate lost both of his legs when he stepped on an IED in May 2013 while helping wounded soldiers in Afghanistan.
Since then, he has worked at rehabbing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He appears in the most recent issue of Time magazine in a story about wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed.
Support from home has been overwhelming, Hartswick said, and he looks forward to giving back as the honorary chairman.
“The last year and a half, the community has done nothing but give me hope and I want to pay it forward,” Hartswick said.
The program, which collects toys donated by the public and gives them to underprivileged children during the holidays, has been associated with the Marine Corps since its 1947 inception, and is run locally by the Nittany Leathernecks Detachment of the Marine Corps League.
Weller, a retired Marine major, joked that Hartswick, though an Army veteran, personifies the values behind the campaign.
“It is overcoming obstacles and being motivated to help others that Toys for Tots is all about,” Weller said.
Morgen Hummel, Hartswick’s mother, said the program brings people together, bridging military branches and professions. She could see it at Monday’s breakfast.
“It’s neat to see so many people from so many walks of life together in the same room,” Hummel said.
Loren Crispell, marketing manager for Penn State basketball, gave remarks before announcing the date for Toys for Tots games at the Bryce Jordan Center. No other organization has been associated with the men’s basketball team as long as Toys for Tots, Crispell said, and they were thrilled to be a part of it again.
The Nittany Lions will hold Toys for Tots night on Dec. 3, when they take on Virginia Tech. The Lady Lions will also have a Toys for Tots game on Dec. 7, when the team plays Wagner. Spectators who bring an unwrapped toy to the game will be admitted for $5.
Last year, the program gave four toys to 1,501 children. Toys will be collected at more than 200 locations across the county. Dec. 15 is the last day for collecting gifts. Those collected then will be wrapped and distributed from Dec. 13 to Dec. 18 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.