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Toys For Tots Brings Joy to Families Around Kokomo

Photography provided

Grissom Air Force BaseSanta is more familiar with camouflage than red velvet. He leads a troop of Marines, a group considerably different from elves. His sleigh looks more like a diesel truck as he hauls toys from seven counties to Grissom Air Force Base.

Sergeant Michael Walmsley is heading the Toys for Tots operation this year. He oversees the following counties: Cass, Fulton, Grant, Howard, Miami, Tipton, and Wabash. The charitable giving in these areas determines many children’s Christmas morning.

Howard County serves 3,500 families with 12,000 large toys. These toys are big items on a child’s wish list. Smaller items like stuffed animals are not counted in this number, but many of these smaller toys are donated and distributed to the children.

The first step is dispersing hundreds of donation bins across the area. Kokomo alone has 100 bins. These are monitored throughout the drive and periodically collected as they fill up. The bins are placed in businesses like Walmart, Meijer, and CVS. Walmsley says it’s mostly local businesses looking to give back to their community.

“The more donations we get, the happier the kids will be,” Walmsley says.

SantaToys for Tots serves children ages 0-17, or really any child that lives with the parents. Walmsley says many donate toys in the “fun age” of 4-10, but the needs extend beyond elementary-age children.

Luckily, businesses like Five Below donate. With a bit of creativity, it allows plenty of options for the older kids. Last year, Walmsley helped put together “man in a bag” and “woman in a bag” kits. It included sets of items like cologne and headphones for teenagers. This year, they’re asking for fishing supplies and other outdoorsy gifts for nature lovers.

“Whatever toy gets donated in this area, it stays in this area,” Walmsley says. He wants donors to know their gift directly impacts the community they live in.

Walmsley is thrilled with the national organization, but he is particularly proud of this area’s program. Goodfellas and The Salvation Army work alongside the Grissom Marines to set up a distribution center in Kokomo with toys sorted out. Then, they invite the parents to come look and shop for their own kids.

“It’s more intimate for the family,” Walmsley says. “It’s making sure the family can take care of their kids.”

Other operations have volunteers pick out the items but this way, the parents can still be involved in gift-giving. Just because they can’t afford the toys doesn’t mean they should be left out.

“The parents are tremendous. They break out in tears and thank us,” Walmsley says. “It’s awesome leading these people around to pick out the toys.”

He says he cherishes his experience last year in Grant County. The parents encouraged him, and he’s excited to run this year’s campaign.

Many companies help make the process smooth. Integrated Services, Inc. provides trucks for the transportation of toys. It takes two long days to collect all the bins and get the toys to the distribution center.

Individuals can help beyond providing a donation. Walmsley encourages motivated individuals to go to the website to apply to volunteer. They can also schedule events with Toys for Tots to add charity to an occasion. Walmsley says to contact him with any ideas.

If there aren’t enough toys donated, local foundations, as well as the Marine Corp Foundation, can fill the gaps. But Walmsley feels confident in the community to give back.

“Kokomo is a great community. They’re tremendous supporters and want to help out the less fortunate in their community,” Walmsley says. “There’s lots of big hearts in Kokomo.”

Luckily for Walmsley, his job doesn’t entail sliding down a chimney or relying on reindeer for transportation. But it doesn’t mean he has an easy gig either. As the leader of this year’s Toys for Tots campaign, he juggles lots of responsibilities to get toys to local children, just like Santa.

For more information and how to donate, visit kokomomarines.com/2019-toys-for-tots.

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