The Christmas season is a busy time for thousands of persons whose deeds of charity and goodwill help others who are less fortunate. Here, in a group of stories, is a brief glimpse of some of the people who make Christmas a special time.
The purple pig sailed through the air and landed with a muffled splat next to a pink walrus. A few seconds later a chartreuse elephant and a woolly blue monster flew onto the growing menagerie of stuffed animals piled on the floor of the Armed Forces Reserve Center drill hall.
Sgt. Maj. Joe Kelly, standing in the center of the cavernous drill hall, was surrounded by a seven-foot mountain of toys. It had taken 30 marines more than seven hours to stuff the 25,000 toys into hundreds of plastic trash bags after a benefit rock concert the previous night, and Kelly was one of about a dozen active duty mariens responsible for sorting the three truck-loads of toys.
While playing with dolls wasn't the kind of assignment he had bargained for when joining the Marines, Kelly said he enjoys helping out with the 31st Annual Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive, which solicits new toys for children who might otherwise be neglected at Christmas time.
"We sort them into games, stuffed animals, puzzles, books, sporting goods and then roughly into age groups the best we can figure out," said Kelly, tossing a plush panda onto the animal pile. "If we can't figure a toy out, we put it in a pile by itself and somebody's wife usually knows what it is."
When Kelly finds a particularly appealing toy, such as the fluffy, green-spotted hand puppet that caught his eye, the square-jawed marine puts it into a special pile of gifts to be distributed to 100 underprivileged children at the Toys for Tots party, where the nearly 400 marine reservists share in the joyous fruits of their nearly three months of hard work.
This year, Toys for Tots canvassed the entire metropolitan area and collected more than 60,000 toys to distribute among 56 welfare organizations who will give them to needy children.
How did they accomplish this mamoth task? Leave it to the Marines.
Their plan of action was modeled after the Battle of Algiers, noted Lt. Col. John Clements. The metropolitan area was divided into eight pieces, like a pie. A reserve officer was in charge of each piece, with about 50 reservist assigned to help pick up toys from collection spots within that sector.
"We cover such a vast area we needed this type of organization," Clements said. The troops made regular sweeps of each area and responded to emergency calls from businesses with overflowing collection boxes.
The work began in September when about 130 area fire stations, fast-food sores, hotels and other business agree to allow the Marines to place Toys for Tots collection on their premises.
Toys began to trickle in in October, and the Marines shuttled the playthings back to their headquarters to be sorted. After Thanksgiving toys began to flood the boxes. The biggest week started on Dec. 11, the day after a benefit concert, when mariens worked from dawn to midnight sorting, bagging and tagging toys.
"It's getting to be such a job that I even brought my wife and son in to help," sighed Gunnery Sgt. Larry Miller, an active duty Marine who has been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to administer the Toys for Tots program in addition to performing his regular duties as personnel administration chief.
The major frustration is dealing with the unusable toys - headless dolls, broken games or puzzles with missing pieces - that turn up in the collection boxes.
"The Marine Corps policy is new toys, but we don't refuse good used toys," Mille said. "But we can't give away junk. If I wouldn't give it to my son, I won't distribute it for Christmas.
Despite the frustrations and the long hours, Mille said the work is very gratifying.
"I really do feel good when I look at all the toys," he said, surveying the tricycles, pogo sticks and baksetballs crowede in the "sporting goods" corner. "I think we make a lot of kids happy who wouldn't have been happy otherwise."
But the real heroes, according to Miller, are the hundreds of area residents who contribute to Toys for Tots.
"The majority of thanks go to the people of Washington area. We're jst a tool to get them out to the needy."