The Marine Toys for Tots Program is a year-round force for good – our mission is to provide hope and emotional support to underprivileged children whenever it is needed most.
Toys for Tots supports children in need through several year-round Programs and initiatives such as the Toys for Tots Literacy Program, spring and summer distributions, the Toys for Tots Native American Program, and our newly established Foster Care initiative. Over the spring and summer months, Toys for Tots has joined forces with local organizations and departments across the Nation to bring much needed hope and emotional comfort to children living in the Foster Care system. The capstone event for the Foster Care Initiative this summer was held in Tucson, Arizona, and Toys for Tots representatives traveled there to support a large-scale distribution event hosted by GAP Ministries Group and the Tucson Police Department (TPD).
“When I [became] the President & CEO of Toys for Tots, I knew we could [be more than] a Christmastime charity. Part of that intent was to [assist] foster families and foster children. [I wanted] to involve the entire community to [assist us in providing] items such as backpacks and educational toys, books, and other gifts,” said LtGen Laster, CEO of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
He continued, “[Upon research] I came across [police department employee] Margo Susco, [the Community Engagement Special Events Coordinator for the Tucson Police Department], and she came up with the great idea of the TPD partnering with us to assist foster children and other children in need here in Tucson.”
Margo was the link that allowed for our initiative to have an overwhelming positive impact on children living in the Foster Care system in Tucson. During the recent distribution event, Margo gave insight on how this partnership came to fruition.
“As we all know, there is a lot of need. We were so moved by LtGen Laster’s vision of wanting to [assist] foster children and children living on [Native American Reservations]. The Toys for Tots vision is right on par with the Tucson Police Department’s vision. It’s all about connecting, all about the small things. You hand a child a toy, it’s a wonderful thing. So many of these young people have been through so much, and the smallest gestures can make a difference.”
She continued, “My friend [at GAP Ministries] called and said, ‘we have a lot of toys and we’ve given them out to our Foster Care and group home youth, but we have semi [trucks] worth of toys and we think it would be wonderful for the police department to [distribute them].”
Just as the year-round Programs continue to evolve, so did our partnership with the TPD. Margo commented, “[We excitedly accepted] the toys, and before you knew it, we were in this giant warehouse with probably 200 pallets of items. This led to two toy giveaways, [both drive-through distributions due to COVID], and this was where we first met Mr. A.T. Wilson who works with the Foundation, and this resulted in on-going partnership.”
Three years later, the distribution event has grown into a community-wide day of giving. Eight local organizations assisted with the event as well as community members from local organizations and school officials from Tohona O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui tribe.
The two-day event brought tremendous excitement to all that attended, and the children wore gleaming smiles and showed overwhelming joy flowing from their hearts as they received their gifts and celebrated with a day of fun! Over the two-day event period, backpacks filled with blankets, books, toys, school supplies, and art sets – provided by Toys for Tots – were distributed to 2,100 local foster children.
The first day of the distribution event delivered hope and gifts to specific communities in the local area, including two Native American Reservations. The second day of the event was held at the GAP Ministries’ campus, and they hosted a day of fun with the Tucson Police Department. The foster children enjoyed food, basketball with the police officers, games, music by Delvyn Crawford, and creating memories with community members. At the conclusion of the day of fun, General Laster, Chief Kazmar of the TPD, and fellow TPD police officers distributed backpacks and books to the children.
When asked about the distribution event, Chief Kazmar said, “It was amazing – it was such a gift to be bestowed upon us. There is a need year-round, and the idea [for the TPD] to engage the community [to distribute basic essential items and educational resources to families and children in need] that isn’t law enforcement related [is really special].”
Chief Kazmar, members of the Tucson Police Department, and community members all understand the importance of providing support and hope to the foster children of surrounding areas.
LtGen Laster commented, "I came to Tucson [in 2022] and met with Chief Kazamr and he was all about [partnering with us]. He understood why this [event] was important.”
When asked about the future of this event, LtGen Laster said, “I think [Chief Kazmar] and I both agree that this is an enduring partnership, and we want to continue to [expand the partnership]. We [also supported Native American children living on local Reservations] and there is an opportunity to expand upon our support to Native American children here as well.”
Chief Kazmar commented, “we have a large population of Indigenous people in Tucson, and [to partner with Toys for Tots] is an amazing opportunity to not only service [children in need in Tucson] but also [support our Native American population in surrounding areas].”
Through our Foster Care initiative in 2023, we were able to distribute 15,000 toys and 3,100 books to 3,100 foster children. These gifts not only helped them during extremely stressful and trying times with the goal of reducing their anxiety, but also made positive impacts in their lives – and gave them hope for a brighter tomorrow.
We are champions for those in Foster Care. We are a year-round force for good.