LUBBOCK, Texas — With bags stuffed with toys and cars turned sleighs, the Marines at Toys for Tots stood in for Santa this holiday season, giving out more than 23,000 toys to families with children facing a Christmas with nothing under the tree.
“[During the toy pass out, when the families] have their face masks on, they have that little squint in their eyes, so we know they’re actually smiling … We know for a fact that they’re happy when they go ahead and take the toys and go home,” Sergeant Mario Garcia, marine and Lubbock’s Toys for Tots campaign coordinator, said.
Thursday was the last day for families to come and get toys from the Marines, who passed them out with face masks by curbside this year to reduce germ spread. For many of the families, the toys help make the holiday. Dasha White, who received toys Thursday, said it meant the world to be able to give her 2-year-old and her 4-year-old a special holiday.
“This will be the first year they’ll have a Christmas … [The Marines are] giving out of their hearts to these children. I’m very grateful for it. They’re like family now,” White said.
But things weren’t always this jolly for the folks at Toys for Tots. Last year, they gave out more than 24,000 toys to the community, but with the hardships of the pandemic, they set this year’s goal for just about 20,000. At first, Garcia said they worried how they would even meet that.
“We were expecting a lot more people to apply for toys, which means a lot more toys to give out … It was difficult,” Garcia said.
However, the community they serve showed up for them too, and the team ended up receiving a last-minute influx of donations from locals and from as far away as New Mexico and California.
Now, they hope to match last year’s 24,000 toys, proving that no matter what, these marines make good on their mission of “Semper Fi,” or “always faithful.”
“We’re always going to be there when somebody needs help, so whether this pandemic is giving you guys a hard time, just know that the marines are here to take care of you, no matter what,” Garcia said.