If Santa Claus was an ex-Marine, he would look a lot like Ralph Pallesco of Washington.
For 10 years, Pallesco has been coordinating the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program in Washington and Greene counties. And over the decade, he has made it possible for thousands of area children to receive a special toy at Christmas.
This year is no exception, as Pallesco said about 4,000 needy children will receive eight toys through the program. To participate in the program, proof of federal or state assistance must be provided.
“We probably have 30,000 toys,” said Pallesco, as he supervised packaging at the Toys for Tots headquarters at Western Area Career and Technology Center in Chartiers Township. “We got 130 bicycles this year!”
Pallesco officially begins to collect new toys for Christmastime in October. Boxes are placed at 275 drop-off locations throughout the counties for individual donations, while Pallesco, who personally collects all year round, is willing to make the time for larger contributions.
For example, Pallesco said he was on hand at the center when a 40-foot-long tractor-trailer pulled up filled with toys from Range Resources.
“It makes all the work worthwhile whenever you see the smile on the children’s faces,” he said.
Sign-ups are held every Saturday in November at the school on Route 519.
Afterward, volunteers begin the process of bagging and tagging the toys, readying them for pickup a week or so before Christmas.
Pallesco realizes that the project and his success is very much dependent upon his many volunteers, which include student members of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Honor Society and Skills USA.
“It’s part of their community service requirement,” explained Debbie DePasquale, child care services instructor at the career and technology center.
Today is the pickup day for this year’s program. Pallesco said the toys will be given out from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the center and at four separate sites in Greene County.
The former Marine, who served from 1961 to 1969, said he already has dispersed many toys to different organizations for distribution.