This Saturday, as they have done the last 31 years, volunteers will distribute toys for children of families in need in Greene County through the Toys for Tots program.
Distribution sites where families may select toys are the Greene County Fairgrounds, Carmichaels American Legion, Bobtown Civic Club and St. Thomas Church in Clarksville. Hours are 10 a.m. to noon.
And if there is a Santa Claus – and why wouldn’t there be? – then John “Buzz” Walters is surely one of Santa’s most loyal helpers when it comes to this program. Walters, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, is the commandant for Tri-County Leathernecks and in charge of Toys for Tots. He has been working for this organization almost since its inception in 1982, eventually succeeding the late Dick Morgan, who spearheaded the collection of toys for 21 years before he died in 2003.
This organization has brought smiles to children on Christmas Day by working with local organizations in seeing that toys get to needy children throughout Greene County. The group distributed toys under the banner of the Marine Corps Foundation’s Toys for Tots program, but the toy distribution now operates more efficiently under local control for pickup, administration and distribution.
The Leathernecks consists mostly of veterans who served in the Marines, and though its number is down to the bare-bones minimum, this past year, Walters explained, has been one of its best. “The response has been tremendous and we are planning to have enough toys for 650 to 700 children,” he said.
At its inception, 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 to look like new. Now, the group no longer has sufficient membership to refurbish toys, and, as a result, it receives many of the toys from members of the community who leave them at drop-off boxes placed at businesses throughout the county.
But the program still works because the community supports it, Walters said. “Some of our boxes are filled up more than once.” Yet, through the years, the number of active Leathernecks has dwindled, leaving the program’s operations to only a few of the remaining members.
While this dedicated group, with the help of volunteers, is able to fulfill its mission, we think it is time for all Marine veterans in Greene County to come forward and offer to help.
We recognize other organizations, particularly service clubs, have a host of projects they work on throughout the year. But their numbers are larger and their members much younger. It would be rewarding to see other clubs in the county put Toys for Tots on their community project list for next year.
It would be a shame if the local organization could no longer provide toys for children because of its dwindling ranks. Like good Marines, this group keeps going at it and going at it, but the reality is they keep getting older and older.
There is no question that the Tri-County Leathernecks believe in the program, but they also believe someone eventually will have to take the reins. The children of Greene County are depending on that.