In an immense annual effort to put smiles on the faces of needy children, officials at the Quantico Marine Corps Base are gearing up for the 52nd Toys for Tots campaign, and regional officers hope to gather more playthings than ever.

The program, established in 1947 and covering all 50 states, aims to collect toys for children who might otherwise not get presents during the holiday season. To date, the Marine Corps has distributed more than 243 million toys to underprivileged children nationwide.

Master Sgt. James Frazier, a spokesman for the Northern Virginia regional effort, said donations have been piling into Quantico's Camp Upshur, where thousands of toys are being sorted in preparation for distribution later this month. Although the center already has collected 27,000 toys this year, Frazier said he thinks there is still a long way to go before the area's needy children will be adequately covered.

"We don't have as many toys as we'd like to have to meet the need," Frazier said, adding that he hopes to top the 100,000 mark this year. The program's goal is to provide each needy child in the area with two toys for the holidays.

"A toy may seem unimportant to some people, but to a child at Christmas, it is the most important thing in the world," Frazier said. "It lets them know that he or she hasn't been forgotten, that the magic of Christmas hasn't passed him or her by. After all, every child deserves a little Christmas."

Frazier's center at Camp Upshur serves as a clearinghouse for the toys. Local organizations throughout the region collect toys, and the Quantico base sorts them and then fills orders from distributions points, such as charitable organizations and churches.

It's a monumental undertaking. Frazier said there are 22 Marines working full time throughout December just to distribute the gifts.

Jim Ardaiolo, a volunteer emergency medical technician for the Dumfries-Triangle Rescue Squad, said his organization is taking in public donations to the program for the first time this year, joining hundreds of regional collection sites in an effort to simply "make kids happy."

"We are looking for whatever we can get," Ardaiolo said. "I think it's a great way to help those people in our community who are less fortunate."

Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys so that officials can view the toys and get them to the appropriate children. Centers are accepting toys until Dec. 22.

To find the collection center, or for more information about the program, call 703-784-2799.

CAPTION: Pfc. Christopher Manella stacks stuffed toys at Quantico's Camp Upshur, where thousands of playthings are being sorted in preparation for distribution later this month. Manella anticipates filling 68,000 orders.