Toys for Tots

Sgt. Karos Reinhold, left, and Staff Sgt. Ernstar Coriolan help coordinate the annual Toys for Tots collection in the Triangle. This year’s campaign, running through December 18, will distribute toys to thousands of needy children.

The local Toys for Tots campaign had its best year on record in 2019, distributing nearly 69,000 toys to more than 42,000 children across Wake, Durham, Johnston, Granville, Vance and Franklin counties.

The COVID-19 pandemic will change some of the campaign’s procedures this year, but organizers say they have no intention of letting the pandemic keep them from having another exceptional year.

“The Marines here in Raleigh are going to work tirelessly,” said Sgt. Karos Reinhold, assistant Toys for Tots coordinator in Raleigh. “We’re going to make sure kids have a great Christmas.”

Last year, lots of volunteers could gather at the warehouse where toy collections are gathered prior to distribution. That is capped at five to six volunteers this year, and social distancing and masks are required.

This year’s Toys for Tots campaign runs through December 18. The organization collects new, unwrapped toys to distribute as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community. Toys for Tots collects monetary donations as well, Reinhold says.

“The program itself helps those children in need, and it helps the parents of those children to give them something special for Christmas,” Reinhold said. “It gives them hope and says, ‘There was someone there to help me, when I wasn’t expecting to get anything.’”

He expects the campaign to go one of two ways this year: there could be fewer toy donations because of the pandemic, or the community could come together to offer more support for children in need.

Last year, businesses at Southport Business Park and employees at Leith Nissan in Cary, below, collected toys and bikes for Toys for Tots.

“With COVID, we’re expecting more children to need help and more families to need help,” Reinhold said in late September, as the campaign was getting ready to kick off. “But we have already seen great outreach from the community – people asking to have a toy drop box or requesting to hold events. That gives us hope.”

The drop box campaign will go on as planned. Last year there were more than 900 collection boxes. He emphasizes that every box must be approved by the Toys for Tots campaign.

However, the pandemic will mean restrictions on events. Some must be cancelled or be smaller than in the past. Where events can safely be held, Toys for Tots coordinators plan to take precautions – requiring masks and having sanitizer at the ready, Reinhold says.

“We are taking proactive measures toward ensuring that we’re not putting people at risk,” he said.

Many volunteers are going full speed ahead, in spite of the pandemic, to give kids a good Christmas.

Members of the Cary-based Marine Corps League, Tar Heel Detachment No. 733, are among the volunteers each year for Toys for Tots. Bruce Goeden, commandant of the group, says the detachment has a list of nearly 100 locations in Cary alone, where Toys for Tots donation boxes will be placed during this year’s campaign.

With the challenges of 2020, Sgt. Karos Reinhold says it’s more important than ever to make a child’s Christmas special.

“This year we’re going to push it even stronger,” Goeden said.

With a “can-do” Marine attitude, he says this year’s campaign can be just as successful, while acknowledging that steps need to be taken to stay safe during the pandemic.

“Groups may not be as large, but we can still get the work done,” he said.

How to Help

The Marine Corps League, Tar Heel Detachment No. 733, is looking for a Few Good Marines.

All active duty, reservist, retired and honorably discharged Marines are eligible for membership in the only Congressionally chartered veterans organization.

For details, check out or

Bill Cargill, also a member of the Tar Heel Detachment, is another Toys for Tots volunteer. He passionately encourages others to give.

“I would just ask them to try to remember when they had everything going against them, and how much it would have meant to have somebody come along and say ‘Here, have this, and there’s no strings attached to it,’” he said.

Cargill is a bit of a historian when it comes to Toys for Tots, noting that it began in Los Angeles in 1947 with roughly 5,000 toys distributed that first year. The original Toys for Tots logo was designed by Walt Disney and is still in use today.

“The concept behind all of this has always been to bring the joy of Christmas to needy children,” Cargill said. “It’s non-discriminatory, it always has been. We don’t care about race, color, creed, except that they have to be needy at Christmas.”

Last year the tenants of Southport Business Park in Morrisville, and the business park’s parent company, GID, partnered to collect more than 400 toys and 30 bikes for Toys for Tots. For every gift and bike that was donated, GID also donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, says Karen Maher, who led the 2019 charge at Southport Business Park.

“Our tenants are looking for something around Christmas where they can get together as a company and give,” she said. “I think it’s special too, because Toys for Tots donations stay in the community.”

Since the pandemic likely means greater need from families, Maher called on anyone who is considering supporting Toys for Tots to think about how many small gifts, like those collected across the business park last year, can add up.

“One thing we found out is that, when everybody gives a little bit, the sum is fantastic,” she said. “I’m retired now, but I can afford to buy a gift or I can afford to buy a bike. Then I’m a little part of something really, really big.”

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