JENKINS TWP. — Imagine a child waking up Christmas morning and finding nothing under the tree.
No presents from Santa Claus. No wrapping paper flying, no joyous screams of delight, no uttering of, “It’s just what I wanted! Thanks, Santa!”
Sadly, it does happen. There are families out there — and the number constantly rises — without means to provide a Merry Christmas for their children.
They rely on help from a community that cares.
One organization providing that help for decades is the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.
Northeastern Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a strong Toys for Tots program that this year provided a Merry Christmas for a record number of children.
Led by SSgt. Louis Cortes, the local Toys for Tots program will have delivered by Christmas morning more than 33,000 donated toys to area children residing in seven counties: Luzerne, Lackawanna, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Bradford, Tioga and Wyoming.
To help with this monumental task, Bekins A-1 Movers, Inc. has provided two trucks and two drivers for the last three weeks, assuring children wouldn’t be disappointed.
“Even if it meant not getting home to my family in time for Christmas, we were not going to let one child down,” said Cortes, the father of four daughters. “Even if I had to deliver the toys myself. This is just too important.”
Impressive statistics from this year’s Toys for Tots campaign:
• Total miles driven by Bekins A-1 Movers: 8,874 miles
• Total hours spent for travel, toy pick ups, toy deliveries: 11,265 hours
• Total amount of toys distributed: 33, 149
• Total girls receiving toys: 16,294
• Total boys receiving toys : 16,855
• Total locations visited for pick ups and deliveries: 97
• Total non-profit organizations supported: 42
“Personally, the Toys for Tots campaign is more than just toys,” Cortes said. “The principle of letting a child know they are not forgotten is a powerful feeling. Growing up, my household was not well off and there were times we went without. That feeling was not a pleasant one. I remember watching and listening as the other kids in school talked about what they received and seeing how happy they were while I was in the shadows making up stories is not a good memory. That is the real motivation for me and my fellow Marines to change that feeling in as many children as possible.”
Rick Herrington, general manager at Bekins A-1 Movers in the Hanover Industrial Park, said his company jumped at the opportunity to help deliver the toys. Cortes said he would have had to purchase a delivery truck if Bekins hadn’t stepped to the plate.
Herrington intends to recommend to his corporate superiors that Bekins get involved with Toys for Tots at all 22 of its locations nationwide.
Herrington was aware of the Toys for Tots program before Bekins got involved, but said working closely with the U.S. Marines’ project has given him a clear picture of need in the region.
“Everyone involved with this project eats, sleeps and breathes Toys for Tots for weeks,” Herrington said. “This is just an amazing effort with tremendous impact on a lot of kids who will have a Merry Christmas.”
Cortes said his team of Marines numbered 22, plus volunteers who helped track donations and mapped out where they were to be delivered — deciding how many girls and how many boys at each destination were to receive toys, plus sorting toys into age brackets.
It’s a lot of work and the volunteers worked to ensure all kids on their list received toys for Christmas morning.
Before Bekins stepped to the plate, Cortes and others used their personal vehicles to collect toys from donors.
Herrington was contacted by Kathy Coslett, Director of Community Affairs at Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services, about getting involved with the project.
“We’ve had a long relationship with Mericle,” Herrington said. “So whatever they needed for this project, we were going to provide. And, after seeing what this is all about, all I can say is that it has been a privilege to be a part of the Toys for Tots program and with the people involved.”
Herrington was most impressed with the attitude of all involved.
“They work so hard and always with a smile,” he said.
Bekins’ drivers Dennis and Doug Neyman, 45-year-old twin brothers from Larksville, have been driving the trucks that deliver toys.
“I love it,” Dennis said. “Just knowing that we are helping to bring Christmas to so many children in our community gives us a really good feeling.”
He said it’s overwhelming to think so many families depend on the Toys for Tots program.
The brothers have logged 300 to 500 miles per day delivering toys to agencies, organizations and churches that will distribute them to the families.
“Look at all those bicycles over there,” Herrington said. “We all remember what it was like to get a new bike on Christmas morning.”
Coslett said Mericle has donated warehouse space to the Toys for Tots campaign for 18 years and has seen significant growth in the program over the last few years.
“Over the past three years, participation in Mericle’s Marine Corps Toys for Tots Challenge has grown from 16 businesses contributing 17 cartons of toys to 63 Mericle tenants donating 97 cartons of toys,” she said. “We thank everyone involved for making this year a record year of giving and, most of all, as best described by SSgt. Cortes, ‘for giving area children the gift of hope.’”
Coslett said in 2013, the Marine Corps informed Mericle more toys were needed to meet the growing demand for holiday gifts for economically disadvantaged families in the seven-county region. Within just weeks of hearing that news, 16 Mericle tenants contributed 17 cartons of toys. Coslett said the program and its impact grew in leaps and bounds from there.
Sometimes, Santa drives a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. Other times, he drives a Bekins A-1 Movers van or wears a Marine Corps uniform.
No matter what form Santa takes, he still gets the job done.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.