Rolling her new pink-and-purple bicycle down the path away from the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Lathrop warehouse Sunday afternoon, little Aleah Stewart was beaming.
“She’s very excited, She’s wanted a bike really bad,” said Delilah Silva of Stockton, 6-year-old Aleah’s mom who is raising five more children on her own.
“I definitely couldn’t afford to give them anything this year. I’m very grateful for the help,” Silva said, referring to the annual countywide distribution event Sunday at the Marine post that served 600 families with approximately 1,500 children this year.
Aleah received her Christmas gift a little early this year in recognition of making the honor roll at school.
“I’m really happy,” Aleah said, holding tight to her new prized possession.
Overall, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots provides thousands of toys each year to needy children in San Joaquin County. In 2018, they distributed 29,965 toys to 14,981 kids.
In addition to their own events, this year the program will distribute toys to 11 Stockton Unified School District schools, several nonprofit agencies that work with children, the Stockton Police Department and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and, later this month, at the Emergency Food Bank Stockton/San Joaquin, 7 W. Scotts Ave., Stockton.
The local Toys for Tots coordinator, active duty Marine Sgt. Shawn Pettway, said preparing for the holiday giveaways takes months of planning, organizing, collecting and packaging toys for distribution.
“I don’t get anything for this besides the satisfaction of helping families in need,” said Pettway, a native of Brooklyn, New York, by way of Colorado Springs.
The goal is to provide each child with two gifts, including bicycles. Pettway recognized the Early Irons Car Club for donating 100 bicycles this year.
Staff Sgt. Calvin Williams, a native of Macon, Georgia, who recently arrived in Lathrop, will be taking over from Pettway for next year’s events.
“It’s all about coordinating times and schedules, making sure everything aligns to have a good process and make it work well for the families,” Williams said.
Of course, all that effort couldn’t happen without businesses and community members stepping forward with donations, both Marines stated.
And as busy as he is this time of year, Santa Claus was present to provide his thanks and his endorsement.
“The community has been astronomical this year, coming out for underprivileged children. The Marines are the real heroes here. I am just eye candy,” the jolly old man in the red suit said.
Several parents picking up presents for their kids agreed:
“This is amazing. It’s been a tough year for us. Having this type of giving event is amazing.” — Krissi MacKay of Stockton.”It’s a blessing for families struggling and trying to make ends meet for Christmas. This brings a little joy to kids. I’m glad we have Toys for Tots.” — Mia P of Stockton, mother of four boys ages 8 to 14.”Thank you and it is really appreciated.” — Estelle Jones of Stockton, mother of four children ages 2 to 13.For his part, Staff Sgt. Williams appreciates what he sees among the people relying on Toys for Tots:
“It’s another opportunity to see the goodness in humanity.”
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