My father was a poor kid. Born in the 30’s, he grew up in the rough part of town and lived through the Great Depression and WWII. My grandmother was a single mom with four children for much of my father’s childhood, a time when there was a lot of shame, condemnation, and little support for that circumstance.
The local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, ran a toy drive during the Christmas season during those years. It was a charity of gently used toys collected then given new homes, distributed to disadvantage children. My father was a recipient of those toys.
Later in life he was a college educated professional, a mechanical engineer by trade, but he never forgot where he came from. My mother likes to tell the story of coming down the basement stairs to discover dad and my brother Billy sorting through the toy box. My father encouraged my brother to pick out some toys to give to the poorer kids for Christmas.
The largest modern iteration of this type of program is the United States Marine Corps mission, Toys for Tots. The deadline for donating to their 2018 campaign is fast approaching, ending December 16. Toys for Tots collects new unwrapped toys for children ages 0-15, often with a shortage of toys for infants or teenagers. Toys for Tots has been running since 1947 and has distributed some 548 million toys to 251 million children
For years, I delighted in buying toys for my nieces and nephews, but they are all grown up now. I choose to place Toys for Tots on my Christmas list every year. I am paying forward the life that my father provided me. I was the youngest child born at the height of his career. I never had a lack of toys to choose from. Unfortunately, he died when I was 12 years old, but I will never forget what he taught me.
What I understand is this: it’s not just about the joy that is offered- but the dignity.
It is hard for some to imagine that after paying for rent, food, bills, etc. that there really is no money left. Maybe you’ve got $20 in the bank for the next two weeks. Early on in my adult years, I lived that reality too. There were no gifts, no real celebration. I could not afford the gasoline to go home for Christmas or if I did, my presence was the present. But I had no children. I only had to look out for my own ego, my own feelings.
Christmas is a luxury. I cannot imagine what it is like for children who do not have a toy to open on Christmas morning. If the bounty of my professional career can provide someone with some small measure of community, belonging, dignity, and joy- what sweeter fruits of my labor are there? Is that not exactly what Christmas is all about?
Please donate to your local Toys for Tots. For more information, please visit their website: https://www.toysfortots.org/
Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2018