Area Toys for Tots collection yields 50,000 gifts this Christmas


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With bags, boxes and a whole lot of manpower, a group of U.S. Marines collected tens of thousands of gifts as part of an area Toys for Tots program.

More than 18 active duty Marines, along with civilian volunteers, organized thousands of toys on behalf of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on Dec. 13 at the former Kmart building in Hazlet.

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Gunnery Sgt. Steven Francisco, who is the coordinator for the program’s branch in Red Bank, said the program received about 50,000 toys this year. Nationwide, 25 million toys are collected annually.

“I volunteered to do this and I think it is a good program and it’s one of the programs that the Reserves. have and I knew I was going to be a part of it,” said Francisco, who has been involved in the program for two years.

After just getting back from deployment in Central America, 10 active duty Marines from the Marine Corps Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces group assisted the program, according to Francisco.

“We kind of utilized their help and if they weren’t here, we would be in a world of hurt reaching out to the community,” Francisco said.

Warehouse Supervisor and Marine Corps Cpl. Orlando Helena has been involved with the program for two years.

“It definitely impacts the community. I remember when I first got here last year, it was a lot of work and I was like ‘I am so tired.’ Definitely, I have had mothers and grown men just cry to me, because this is all for the children and it just impacts the community so much and it definitely impacts me and I love doing this,” Helena said.

The Red Bank branch will distribute the toys throughout Monmouth, Union, Somerset and Ocean counties, according to retired Marine Jack Santelli, who has been volunteering for the past 18 years.

This year, the program received about 285 requests for toys from numerous non-profit organizations and families in need. Some recipients include the Asbury Park Boys and Girls Club, churches, day care centers, the Salvation Army, veterans organizations, the RAINE foundation, the Arc of Monmouth and hospitals, according to Santelli.

This year, on Christmas Eve, the Marines and volunteers from the program were expected to visit various hospitals to deliver gifts to children in hospital wards, according Santelli.

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