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Scandal-Stained Toys for Tots Bounces Back

Sponsors, Donations Plentiful a Decade After Charity's Financial Misdeeds

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2004; Page B01

A decade after a devastating financial scandal hit the U.S Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots, the 55-year-old charity has come battling back.

The Quantico-based Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is swimming in corporate sponsorship and donations. The number of Toys for Tots distribution groups has almost tripled, the number of toys given to children has more than doubled and the amount of money raised has grown from less than $500,000 to $42 million last year.


Watched by his mother, Florita, Darron Staton, 4, embraces the Shrek doll he received at the Toys for Tots holiday kickoff at Union Station. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)


"It's a fabulous charity," said Elicca Evans as she stacked a half-dozen Hot Wheels cars into a neat pile during a toy drive by the Washington Metropolitan Health Care Recruiters Association at the group's annual luncheon Friday. "I do not think they could do a better thing at this time of the year."

In the Washington area and throughout the country, millions of Americans such as Evans, a nurse recruiter at Southern Maryland Hospital Center, are gathering new toys to be scooped up by Marines, reservists and other volunteers and distributed to poor children as part of Toys for Tots.

But 10 years ago, life wasn't so merry for the venerable charity.

The founder of its national fundraising arm, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the charity. Most of the money the foundation raised was going toward expenses instead of to the needy. Federal and state authorities were investigating. Donors fled. Toy contributions plunged.

Many charities might not have survived. But the 57-year-old charity has come roaring back.

Last year, 456 Toys for Tots campaigns gave 15 million toys to 6.5 million needy children. Indeed, Toys for Tots leaders say they reached 30 to 40 percent of children in the United States who live in poverty.

Toys for Tots officials say the recovery has been nothing short of miraculous.

"It's been like a phoenix," said retired Maj. Gen. William Groeniger III, chairman of the board of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation for the past nine years. "It came [back] from the ashes."

Founded in 1947 by Bill Hendricks, a Marine Reserve major and public relations executive, the charity was adopted by the Marine Corps the following year and expanded nationwide as the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program.

The local system hasn't changed much. In the Washington area, Marine Reserve units stationed at Anacostia Naval Station collect toys and letters from Washington area children and from parents asking for toys for their children and then coordinate distribution to individual families and nonprofit groups that give them out as well.

No request is turned down, they say, unless fraud is detected.

Parents say they're grateful for the assistance. Giovanni Munoz, 36, a maintenance worker for an apartment complex in Rockville, said this is the second year that he and his wife, Alicia, 31, have turned to Toys for Tots for gifts for their three children.


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