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Toys for Tots helps provide holiday cheer for area children

Toys for Tots helps provide holiday cheer for area children
Mallory Cook donates a stuffed animal to the Toys for Tots drive outside the front of Theisen’s in Charles City in December 2018. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
By Kelly Terpstra,

A holiday season can be difficult for children without presents underneath the Christmas tree.

That’s one of the reasons Jim Marlow of Charles City has been involved in Toys for Tots as long as he has been.

The Marine and Vietnam War veteran knows the feeling when families can’t quite come up with enough money to buy gifts for their loved ones during Christmas time.

“We didn’t have much at all when I was growing up. To see these kids — if it wasn’t for the citizens donating so heavily into this, they would not have toys to wake up to,” said Marlow.

For more than 30 years, Marlow and members of the North Iowa Marine Corps League Detachment No. 859 in Floyd County have made it possible for kids to have smiles on their faces at Christmas through Toys for Tots.

The effort was started in 1947 by a fellow Marine in California. It grew into a national campaign a year later. The toy drive has seen spokespersons such as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and George Strait promote it over the years.

Over half a billion toys have been distributed since Toys for Tots started.

Marlow and his Floyd County Marines helped organize 54 drop spots in the area for unopened and unwrapped toys. The drive also accepts monetary contributions.

“Our team probably did about 100 hours this year,” said Marlow.

He said students from RRMR High School raised money to help purchase almost $5,000 worth of toys for the drive.

Toys are distributed through the Salvation Army in Mason City, organized by North Iowa Toys for Tots Coordinator Ernie Martinez.

Martinez helps oversee toy distribution to more than 2,500 families from 12 counties in northern Iowa, including Floyd County. Families sign up for the program and the toys are distributed from the Mason City Salvation Army headquarters to the families before Christmas.

Marlow said, “When we first started in Floyd County we were at the North Cedar Terrace in what’s now their laundry room. We had about two tables. When we got a chance to move into the Salvation Army in Mason City, we jumped at it.”

Marlow said almost 400 families in Floyd County benefitted from the toy drive. The Salvation Army also helps with a holiday meal.

“They kick in with a food basket, to make it even better for them so that they have a nourishing dinner,” said Marlow.

Martinez has been involved with Toys for Tots for 15 years, the last seven as coordinator of the North Iowa branch, one of three Toys for Tots branches in the state. He has said as many as 6,000 families have received toys in prior years.

“It’s amazing how many families had 8 or 11 kids,” said Martinez. “You might have less families, but you have more kids.”

He said helping out single mothers and donating toys to day cares is also high on the list for his group.

“I thought if went real good this year. It really went smooth. The volunteers came through for us. Toys for Tots only works because of the community,” said Martinez. “As a Marine, I honor that tradition to carry forward.”