Marines' mission: bring Christmas smiles
Murray • Lance Cpl. Marc Sumampong, dressed in the full uniform of a U.S. Marine, stood alone next to the empty box.
Sumampong took off his white hat, held it steady in one hand, and smiled big.
This is always one of his favorite assignments.
"I'm very glad to help out," the Marine Reservist said last week as he distributed boxes to local stores for the annual Toys for Tots drive.
The fundraiser, started in 1947 by a Marine Corps Reserve major, collects new, unwrapped toys each year and gives them to children in low-income homes as Christmas gifts.
That pilot effort 65 years ago netted 5,000 toys.
In 2011, Toys for Tots handed out about 16 million toys to 7 million children, according to the nonprofit's numbers.
In Utah, 13.5 percent of the state's population and 15.9 percent of its children lived in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's one-year American Community Survey.
"People camp out and stand in line for hours to make sure their children can get toys," Sumampong said. "People will say, 'I drove 50 miles to make sure my kids got some.' "
Glenn Bailey, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, said his organization is planning on helping more families this year than last on the Dec. 22 food giveaway. And already, Bailey said, he's heard of local toy giveaway programs filling up with families in need.
"There are Christmas toy kinds of programs that are already full and have been for a couple of weeks," he said. "For these things to fill up so far in advance of the holidays is not a good sign."
But if the need is great, Sumampong said, so is the community's willingness to help.
With Marine Reservists beginning to collect items last week Sumampong spent his day at a Toys R Us in Murray, while others stood guard next to donation boxes in Orem empty boxes will soon be full, he said.
"I will come on Friday and have to empty it," he said. "Then over the weekend when people shop, I will have to come back again."
New toys and cash donations can be made at Toys R Us and other stores around the valley into December. Those wishing to donate or receive assistance can also sign up online at http://www.toysfortots.org.
Once the toys are collected, they will be brought to Fort Douglas, organized and distributed to families in need.
"We want to make sure the kids really enjoy them," Sumampong said.
Sumampong, a three-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserves, expects this Toys for Tots to be one of his last assignments before his first deployment overseas.
"I'm very excited," he said. "But this is always very rewarding."