Santa Claus, USMC

Father David Epps's picture

What does Santa Claus look like? He may just look like a United States Marine. In 1947, according to the national Toys for Tots website, when Major Bill Hendricks, USMCR, and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children, Toys for Tots was born. The idea came from Bill’s wife, Diane.

In the fall of 1947, Diane crafted a homemade doll and asked her husband to deliver the doll to an organization, which would give it to a needy child at Christmas. When Hendricks determined that no agency existed, Diane told Bill that he should start one. He did.

The 1947 pilot project was so successful that the Marine Corps adopted Toys for Tots in 1948 and expanded it into a nationwide campaign. That year, Marine Corps Reserve units across the nation conducted Toys for Tots campaigns in each community in which a Marine Reserve Center was located. Marines have conducted successful nationwide campaigns at Christmas each year since 1948.

The initial objective that remains the hallmark of the program today is to “bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children.” In 1948, Walt Disney designed the Toys for Tots logo, which remains in use today. Disney also designed the first Toys for Tots poster used to promote the nationwide program.

There has been a long list of celebrities who have given their time and talent to promote Toys for Tots. First Lady Nancy Reagan served as the national spokesperson in 1983. First Lady Barbara Bush served as the national spokesperson in 1992 and in her autobiography named Toys for Tots as one of her favorite charities.

From Christmas 1980 through the present, Marines have collected and distributed only new toys. The goal is to deliver a message of hope, which will assist in building self-esteem and, in turn, motivate less fortunate children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. A shiny new toy is seen as the best means of accomplishing this goal.

In 1995, the Secretary of Defense approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the U.S. Marine Corps and an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve.

Despite the trauma the nation experienced as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the economic downturn and the anthrax scare, the 2001 U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Campaign was the second best in the history of the program. Local campaigns were conducted in 388 communities covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Over the 62 years of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, Marines have distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million needy children. This charitable endeavor has made U.S. Marines the unchallenged leader in looking after less fortunate children at Christmas.

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has supplemented local toy collections with more than 81.3 million toys valued at more than $487 million, plus it has provided promotion and support materials valued at over $6.3 million.

Around the community, Toys for Tots boxes are waiting for new toys. Be generous this Christmas — the Marines are looking for a few good men and women to bring joy to the nation’s children! Semper Fi!

[David Epps is the founding pastor of The Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, Ga., between Peachtree City and Newnan. He is also the chaplain for the local detachment of the Marine Corps League. For more information about Toys for Tots, or to request toys for needy children, log on to]

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