The Toys for Tots campaign held its third annual Children's March in Falls Church Saturday under sunny skies.
In brisk weather, 4,000 participants marched with toys they donated to others, in a fitting enactment of the parade's theme of children learning the joy of giving. Willard Scott, chairman of this year's campaign, summed up the spirit of the event: "The greatest gift in the world is to be able to give."
For Marine Corps reservists, the parade was part of their 37th annual campaign to collect new toys for needy children. This year's goal is to provide 100,000 new toys so that each child in the Washington area can have a truly merry Christmas. More than 3,000 new toys were collected at the march.
The Toys for Tots program was started in Los Angeles by former Marine major Bill Hendricks and has since spread nationwide.
The parade began promptly at 10 a.m., leaving from Falls Church City Hall and continuing along Little Falls Street -- renamed "Sesame Street" the day of the march by Falls Church Mayor Carol Delong -- then ending about a mile away at Stewart Park in Arlington.
The march was led by Beverly Garland of the TV show "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and the Count and Cookie Monster characters of "Sesame Street" fame.
But the real celebrities were the children themselves who marched with obvious joy, representing all ages and a variety of groups: infants pushed in strollers, toddlers, Scouting troops, members of the Bishop O'Connell football team and numerous other children who simply enjoyed being part of a parade. Each marcher carried a new toy that was presented to Marine Corps personnel.
Adding pageantry to the march were groups that included the high school bands from Calvin Coolidge in the District and Richard Montgomery in Rockville, the varsity drill team from Lake Braddock and the Prince George's County mounted color guard.
In past years the march consisted primarily of groups from the Northern Virginia area, but this year many groups from the District and the Maryland suburbs made the parade a metropolitan-wide effort.
After the march, participants and observers were treated to a stage production by the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts, which presented a musical tribute to America.
Although the Marines have set a goal of 100,000 new toys, they say many more are needed to bring smiles to all the needy children on Christmas morning. Toy donations will be collected until Dec. 14 and then will be presented to Marine Corps Reserve officials for distribution.
The Marines recommend that donations consist of toys priced about $5, to prevent disparity in what the children receive.
Continental Federal Savings and Loan Association, sponsors of the Children's March, have set up collection sites in the area to receive donations of new toys. To locate the nearest collection center site, call 691-4561