Charity Spotlight: Toys for Tots

Toys for Tots has been providing Christmas joy to less fortunate children in all 50 states for more than 60 years.

The program’s mission is to assist the U.S. Marine Corps in providing a tangible sign of hope to economically disadvantaged children at Christmas. More than 700 local Toys for Tots coordinators and 25,000 Marines, Marine Corps League members, veterans, and volunteers work every single year to coordinate fundraising, toy collection, and toy distribution. The program has distributed more than 469 million toys to more than 200 million children in need.

Toys for Tots was started back in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles. During their first year, they collected and passed out thousands of toys to needy children around the area. The success of the first year prompted the Marine Corps to adopt the program in 1948 and expand it across the United States.

Hendricks’ success as the public relations director for Warner Brothers Studio allowed him to garner attention and celebrity endorsements for the beloved program. The Toys for Tots logo, which is still in use today, was designed by Walt Disney; Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee, and Vic Damone recorded the original theme; and Bob Hope, Doris Day, Kenny Rogers, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush have all contributed their support for Toys for Tots.

In 1991, the Secretary of Defense authorized the nonprofit Toys for Tots Foundation, which now takes care of fundraising and support for the Toys for Tots program. Since then, the foundation has allowed the Reserve Headquarters Staff to focus on training, equipping, and organizing the reserve force.

Since then, Toys for Tots has grown in both popularity and influence all over the country. Some significant achievements include:

  • 1996: Toys for Tots expanded to include all 50 states by selecting organizations across the country to collect and distribute toys at a local level
  • 2001: Local campaigns covered almost 400 communities in every state, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, making it the second-best year in the program’s history, despite the trauma of the September 11 attacks, the economic decline, and the anthrax scare
  • 2001: The Toys for Tots Foundation celebrated its 10th year as a fundraising organization, and it was ranked in the “Philanthropy 400” for the first time
  • 2002: Charity Navigator gave the foundation a 4-star rating, and it improved to #267 in the “Philanthropy 400”
  • 2003: The foundation received the “Outstanding Nonprofit Organization of the year” award, was ranked #341 in the “Philanthropy 400,” was named “America’s Best Children’s Charity” by Reader’s Digest, and was included in Forbes’ “Gold Star List” or charities
  • 2005: Toys for Tots met all 20 of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance standards, making it an accredited charity
  • 2006: Toys for Tots ranked #59 in the “Philanthropy 400,” its highest ranking to date

Toys for Tots also works with various Native American tribes, and in 2013 they distributed toys to Navajo, Hopi, White Mountain Apache, Zuni, and Tohono O’odham tribes, among others. These children face some of the worst poverty in the world and often lack sufficient housing with working plumbing. In addition, Toys for Tots sponsors a literacy program, which is designed to help the most economically disadvantaged children succeed through educational resources and improved reading skills. The program has raised more than $2 million for literacy efforts throughout the country.