WAYNESBURG – On a Saturday morning last month, a crowd of people gathered outside the exhibition building at the Greene County Fairgrounds.
It was the Tri-County Leathernecks annual Toys for Tots distribution, and at least a handful of those who were waiting for doors to open at 10 a.m. had been there all night.
For almost 30 years, the Tri-County Leathernecks, a local organization of former U.S. Marines, has been running the Toys for Tots program, providing toys for children of families in need.
The group, whose numbers are dwindling, collects toys and donations throughout the year for this one day, the day the toys are given to parents who can then make sure their children enjoy a merry Christmas.
The Leathernecks started the program in about 1982, said John “Buzz” Walters, who is commandant for Leathernecks and in charge of Toys for Tots.
The 2012 Toys for Tots program saw an increase in the number of children receivng toys this year, Walters said. “We served about 660 children this Christmas,” he said.
Heading up the distribution sites were Murray Williams and Walters at the county fairgrounds; John Baily and Teresa Walters at the Carmichaels American Legion; Chuck Zalar, Don Humbert and Toni Cline at the Greensboro Fire Hall; and Dick Saxby, George Dieks and Linda Pekley at St. Geroge’s Church in Clarksville.
Walters said Tom and Jennie Hollowood contributed 75 bikes and toys, and collection boxes were set up at all Community Bank branches throughout the county.
Shirley and Roy Negley sponsored the annual Women of the Moose dinner and Chinese auction, and they, along with their son, Sean, have played a big part of the distribution at the fairgrounds.
Other contributors included 12th Century Club, Consol Energy, Bob Bosco, Joyce Cass, Aaronb Stimmel, Giant Eagle, Big Lots, Dollar General, Michaels, Walmart, Shop ’n Save and Clarksville Lions.
Members used to meet regularly at Caputo’s Restaurant in Dry Tavern to talk about old times, Walter said. They told stories, which Marines refer to as “sea stories,” about their time in the service.
At one of those meetings, Walters said, a member suggested the group become involved in a project. “One person came up and said, ‘we have to have an activity to work on, a goal,’” he said. That was start of the group’s efforts.
At the beginning, the Leathernecks had more than 40 members to help with the program. The group would accept used toys, sleds and bicycles, and members would refurbish them all to look like new.
The group no longer has enough people to refurbish the toys. Nowadays, it receives many of the toys from members of the community who leave them at drop-off boxes placed at businesses throughout the county.
The program still works because the community supports it, Walters said. “Some of our boxes are filled up more than once,” he said.
“We get a lot of people to help out,” Walters said. At the distribution center, this has included members of the Moose as well as local high school students.
During the years, the Leathernecks also has increased the number of toy distribution sites in the county from one to four.