GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Thanks to your generosity, the Marine Corps Reserves delivered holiday happiness to hundreds of families in South Mississippi on Wednesday.
Marines and volunteers spent the day handing out "Toys for Tots" at the Paralyzed Veterans center on Dedeaux Road.
United States Marines are thought of as "tough as nails" warriors. And they are. But there's also a softer, caring side that comes out at Christmas.
Marines in dress uniforms, could have used a Santa hat. They, along with volunteers, filled bags with various toys and Christmas goodies.
All the planning and work that goes into the annual Toys for Tots drive pays big dividends on "distribution day."
"The response was great," Marine Daniel Arias said "We were able to support about seven thousand children overall within the three counties. And we raised about 21,000 toys."
The table of toys resembled a North Pole work bench, with something for children of every age.
Volunteer Patricia Silva can truly appreciate the Christmas gifts the longtime program provides. She recalls a time when she struggled to provide a happy holiday.
"I was a single parent a long time ago and I had difficulty registering for Christmas assistance," Silva remembered. "So when I grew up, I just wanted to make sure parents could access the program."
Nationwide, there are some 700 Marine Corps "Toys for Tots" programs. Last year they provided children with some 147,000,000 toys.
"Even when I grew up in the same area, we didn't have the toys and stuff," said another volunteer, the Rev. Charles Strickland. "I just decided I wanted to be a part of helping some unfortunate families with the things they need."
Marines wrapped up the morning with a special delivery. They brought toys to the two young children of a Gulfport fireman, a firefighter whose family lost everything when their home burned last weekend.
He's been overwhelmed by generosity.
"It was just amazing," fireman John Johnson said. "It went from total devastation to probably the best Christmas these kids will ever have. And it's just amazing the outreach and the sympathy the people have had for the kids. It's touched me so much."
The Marines wish to extend a special thanks to all the corporate sponsors of the "Toys for Tots" program. And of course, a very heartfelt thanks, to everyone who donated toys for the Christmas campaign.