Toys for Tots is a Christmas tradition, but the history of the program is less well known. The following article was transcribed from an interview on “Afternoons with Mike,” a show on The Shepherd Radio Network. Host Mike Gilland spoke with Patrick Joynt, coordinator of Toys for Tots in Marion County.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Mike Gilland: Give us just a little bit of the history, if you will, of Toys for Tots.
Patrick Joynt: Well, we started in 1947. Major Bill saw the need that there were a lot of World War II orphaned children around Los Angeles. So he and his wife decided to do something about it.
She made a bunch of dolls, handmade dolls, and everything and got some friends together. So they helped a couple hundred children in Los Angeles, and the Marine Corps took notice.
And so the very next year, they said, “You know what? We’re gonna run this from now on.”
It is the only charity sponsored by the [Department of Defense]. And we’ve been doing it for 74 years now. We are in every state and territory in the United States. You know, the famous Toy Train, Walt Disney himself drew that up.
MG: So the history runs deep with this organization?
PJ: Yes, sir. It used to be that there were a lot more reserve units doing it because you can either be a civilian, like myself, or a Marine Corps Reserve unit, like in Orlando. There’s a reserve unit there so they run it.
There’s about, I would say 820 campaigns throughout the United States, the Virgin Islands, Guam, etc. And I would say the overwhelming majority of those are civilians.
A lot of them are former Marines, but you don’t have to be. But it always helps.
MG: Is that the branch that you served in as well?
PJ: Yeah, I didn’t know there were any other branches besides the Marine Corps.
MG: When you served in the Marine Corps, I’m sure you heard a lot about Toys for Tots even then, right?
PJ: Actually, no, surprisingly. I mean, I’d heard of it. But as far as getting involved with it, it took many years to reach that epicenter.
I joined the Marine Corps League here, and they had a program where they were splitting it with another campaign here. And it was just a lot of admin junk. So the next year, we had our own.
We had some problems with somebody running it, so we had to take care of that. And finally, we combined the two campaigns because it used to be they would take care of the agencies and I would take care of the schools. We would both do about $9,000.
But, there was a lot of double dipping going on. So we stopped that. It streamlined a lot more stuff. We used to not have a lot of money between us, either one of us. Now that we’re one campaign, we get a lot more money, but we’re spending a lot more money.
Basically, the money comes in and it pretty much goes right back out. I spend it on everything that I need to spend it on. If I need something admin, like say tags for the bags, or the bags themselves, we buy those.
I try to get everything donated first of all, but if that doesn’t work, I go out and buy it. We’ve got a couple of great sponsors with us. Wayne’s World Haunted Trail, it’s a big thing around here. You should come out to it. The last three weekends of October, they have a haunted trail, and it’s $10 for 12 and up and $5 12 and under.
And they donated, I won’t say the number, but it was more than $14,999 and it was less than $15,100.
MG: How many months or weeks out of the year are you avidly working on this campaign?
PJ: I could do this all year long. There’s a lot of stuff to do. I buy toys all year long. If I see a great buy at Sam’s or something like that, I’ll go out and buy it. And I’m lucky enough that if we have the money in the account, I get it. So that’s one thing that I do throughout the year.
The middle of September till January 15, when our report is due, we’re pretty much non stop. There’s volunteers that we need. There’s more stuff that folks can do. So if you want to volunteer, we’d be more than happy to help you.
There’s a few critical jobs that we need to get to hold the people and get to know them. And when we are confident with them, we would let them fly with some of the extremely important jobs.
You know, I’m the youngest guy working here and I’m 52. The other guys are, well, they’re not old, but they’re very, very seasoned individuals. But I can’t do without them and then the folks that donate.
We were at an event and all I got was change. That change adds up. Every little bit helps. I had over $900 in change last year.
MG: $900 in change?
PJ: Yep, I was the one that was making all the shortages. That was me.
MG: I’m hearing that this is really not just a Christmastime organization. You guys work year round throughout the entire calendar.
PJ: Yes, sir.
And I want to stress that this is a volunteer organization. So my pay goes up at least triple every year. So you know exactly what I’m making. Zero. We don’t get paid. There’s only maybe 20 or so people that actually get paid there in Virginia. That is by the grace of God. Also a lady that donated a good chunk of change.
She donated several million dollars, I think around $15 or $18 million, with the caveat that that money, the interest and the dividends on that money, will pay the salaries, the medical insurance, the retirements for those folks.
We’re one of the very few charities that 93 cents, it might be a little higher now, 94 cents of every dollar goes to toys. Locally, we might not get that close, but we do as best we can. But nationally, we’re one of the best charities out there.
And before I forget. I am looking at a bike. We got over 215 bikes just from Winn Dixie alone. Winn Dixie, locally here, their district wanted to help us out. So they ended up buying about 430 bikes, and they split that between us in The Villages. So we’ve been giving out bikes all day long.
MG: So there are two ways to take part. Either donations like you’re talking about, And there are both individuals that donate as well as companies, but then there’s the boxes where people can drop by toys. Describe what kind of toys and what condition.
PJ: New, unwrapped toys. That’s what we need. Because if they wrap them, it looks great. But we have to unwrap it because we have to know what we’re getting.
Sometimes people label stuff and it might be a train to them, but to us it’s more of a remote control vehicle. So we have to find that out.
People donate all kinds of stuff to us. They kind of miss the Toys for Tots part. We get a lot of stuff, but anything we get donated, we have an outlet to get it to some people that are in need.
Usually every year, we are in need of little kids toys, infant toys, I should say. Zero to 2 years old boys and girls. And boys and girls toys 9 and up. Every year, that’s pretty much like clockwork.