Telling It Like It Is
Since 1947, the U.S. Marine Corps have been operating their Toys For Tots program and distribute millions of new toys to needy children. Local organizations and politicians have helped this program, which is in its prime during the Christmas season.
The expressions of gratefulness on children's faces when they unwrap a present from someone they may never even meet is priceless - and the generosity of the public has made Toys For Tots a great avenue for children to truly enjoy the “gifting” of Christmas that they wouldn't otherwise experience.
Plenty of our community leaders help contribute to this great cause - but sometimes I wonder, after those lucky children open their dolls and games, do they benefit from those items weeks, months or even years down the road? How long do these gifts make them feel happy and is there another gift we can give them, in addition, that they can use to combat the unfortunate situations and conditions they face?
My sister, now 11 years old, said the two most memorable toys she has from when she was a “tot” is a pink dog given to her by my late father and a Sesame Street bath toy that worked for years. She also values a few sentimental toys. Other than that, the only items she currently holds near and dear seem to be souvenirs from places she's been and from shows she has seen. All her other toys from years past – including nonsense stuffed animals she inherited from me – are buried in a heap in a red bucket and she doesn't really remember most of the items she got when she was a tot.
As they grow older, most children won't even remember the toys they received. Even though my heart warms when I see photos and television clips of children opening that special present from a Toys For Tots event, I'm reminded that the community should start planning community gifts that give back when these little ones grow up.
When I'm at a meeting, all I hear is that “kids need a community center” and “they need to be kept off the streets” and “they need programs that turn them away from a life of crime, gangs and poverty.” No, I never hear them say – especially during the holidays – that what most less fortunate kids need are more toys.
It's fair to say that some of the best gifts aren't even objects - and the ones children really need, whether it's medication or permanent housing, are too expensive to donate to any charity.
Maybe the best gift we can give children is the gift of safety and direction. Various news articles report on children who were innocently shot and killed while caught in the crossfire of a neighborhood brawl. Other heart-wrenching stories reveal toddlers who were beaten to death and mothers who killed their babies after they were born. These children had the gift of life and it was taken from them too soon.
How can we ensure these children will survive to see their next birthday? In most situations, it seems no immediate gift could provide what is really necessary for children to be safe and grow up to be productive adults.
While I like the idea behind Toys For Tots and instantly gratifying a child with a toy to get the “holiday” feeling for a brief moment in time, I feel the best gift is simply our own unselfish love, attention, protection and a chance to grow up in a safe community.