Toys for Tots volunteers

Nathan and Missy Stark of Troup (back, left and center) brought this carriage and two mules to Palestine’s Main Street Saturday to raise $400 and 11 toys for Toys for Tots. The Starks offered carriage rides for just $5 per person and donated all the money to TFT. Also pictured are Al Biddie of Tyler (back, right) and TFT volunteers Tammy Dillard (front, left) and Amanda Malone (front, center).

By Lisa Tang

Toys for Tots has been ensuring children have something under their Christmas tree for over seven decades. The nationwide program, started in 1948 by a US Marine Corps Reserve Unit, now provides toys to millions of children each year.

Each year, local donors provide thousands of toys, which are organized and donated to needy families. Monetary donations are used to purchase gifts for older children, such as games, balls, or bicycles.

A majority of the program’s 800 locations are near a Marine Reserve unit and they are typically managed by a former Marine. On a local level, Amanda Malone leads the charge for the collection of toys in our community.

Though she’s not an ex-marine, Malone, a leader at Cornerstone Church and secretary at Westwood Elementary School, stepped into the role eight years ago. She’s the official Toys for Tots coordinator for Anderson County, certified by the US Marine Corps.

The lack of a Marine coordinator in the county led to an opportunity for Malone, who responded to a message on Facebook asking her to lead a TFT chapter in Anderson County.

Malone said she jumped at the chance to help the program, which brought toys to her and her younger brothers when they were children.

“I didn’t know the man who brought the toys when I answered the front door, but he told me he was from Toys for Tots,” she said. 

The program requires Malone, a volunteer, to attend training once a year at the foundation’s headquarters in Virginia and to follow rigorous guidelines.

Organization, dedication, and commitment are a few of the qualities expected by the Marine Corps. Malone relies on a team of 30 volunteers – including many members of Cornerstone Church – to put out boxes and pick up and organize the toys while she documents donations and prepares reports.

The dozens of drop-off boxes are located in businesses, schools, and churches throughout the county – just about any location that draws foot traffic.

The number has grown in the eight years since Malone has been coordinating them, as more business owners continue to ask if they can participate. 

“We do it to help drive toys to the kids,” Malone said.

Parents fill out applications for their children at one of many locations and local toy drives, including Anderson Cherokee County Enrichment Services (ACCESS), the Palestine Community Food Pantry, the Army Reserves, the Highway Department, and the Stocking Stuffer Toy Drive at the Herald-Press.

Despite the different locations, leaders at each organization compare notes while vetting the applications. 

Partners say they are pleased with Malone’s courtesy and responsiveness.

Destiny Routt, a new employee at ACCESS, had two weeks to collect applications for about 90 children this year. Routt, a Certified Family Partner, said she appreciated the extra time Malone granted to get the applications in order.

Stocking Stuffer Toy Drive coordinator, Pequita Casteel, has worked with Malone for several years, helping to coordinate both cash and toy donations for those in need, and serving some 300 children for her own toy drive at the Herald-Press.

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