Every year, a group of volunteers works to make sure that children in need have a toy to unwrap on Christmas day.
This behind-the-scenes work, which begins in late summer, is no small feat. It requires wrangling donations of cash and items to build a stockpile of 21,000 toys, not to mention sorting and distributing them.
This year’s coordinator for the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Santa Cruz County arm is Corralitos resident John Adams, who says the role came to him by accident after he called to simply offer his services as a volunteer “elf.”
But some unspecified administrative snafu put him in the leadership role. Soon, he was getting calls from churches and other organizations.
“They told me, you’re on the website,” he said. “You’re the coordinator.”
But Adams, a former U.S. Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm and with the Army National Guard, says he gladly took on the role for the sense of purpose it gives him.
“It’s not uncommon for a veteran to feel out of place coming back to civilian life,” he said. “We need a mission, and this is definitely a mission worth sinking my teeth into. And I’ll tell you what, it’s driving me crazy, but I love it. I’m looking forward to making kids happy.”
And now, as the Christmas season gets underway, Adams says he needs at least 20 volunteers, but has only six so far.
He also needs gifts for children with special needs such as autism. Another hard-to-fill category is older teens, for whom Adams is requesting gift cards in increments of $25-$35.
New books are also a much-needed item.
Toys For Tots got its start in 1947 by Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks, whose wife lamented the plight of children in need.
Hendricks and his fellow Marines collected and distributed 5,000 toys, and soon his commander told him to implement the program on a wider basis.
T4T’s mission was further cemented when Hendricks met with his friend Walt Disney, who created the iconic three-train logo.
In 2021, after 33 years behind the wheel of the Toys For Tots program in the Pajaro Valley, coordinator and co-founder of the Santa Cruz County chapter, Delilah Valadez, said she was ready to hand the keys to another leader as the drive wrapped up that year.
Santa Cruz County Toys For Tots spawned after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Valadez teamed up with then-Watsonville Fire Chief Don French to begin the mission of getting toys, books and bikes to needy children.
As for his future involvement in the organization, Adams says he may be in it to stay.
“My wife and I are saying ‘never again,’ but I have a feeling I’ll be back at it again next year,” he said.
There will be toy drives on Dec. 2 and 16 on the Santa Cruz Wharf from 1-9pm, sponsored by Vino by the Sea and the Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department, respectively.
The Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots drive needs donations of toys and cash. It is also seeking volunteers.
For information, visit bit.ly/4a0hO6b or call John Adams at 408.442.1427.
All money donated goes to purchasing toys and is tax deductible with the tax EIN # 20-3021444.