As I’ve discussed before, serving on the Inspector/Instructor staff responsible for training Marine Corps Reservists comes with a slew of secondary responsibilities that, despite their “secondary” moniker, actually make up a good portion of what active duty Marines assigned to Marine Forces Reserve actually do.  Primary among these tasks are funeral honors and casualty notification responsibilities, which take precedent over just about all else, but another, less morose, task also awaits active duty and active reserve Marines that fall under the 4th Marine Division: Toys for Tots.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: Toys for Tots is a Reserve function, and as such, us grubby active duty guys aren’t supposed to get our mitts anywhere near it.  Unfortunately, managing two or three months of toy collection, sorting, and distribution is a full-time effort, and budgetary constraints mandate that any funds that might be used to pay reservists for extra active duty work go toward deployment workups and legitimate training… so if toys are going to make it from our collection boxes and into the hands of needy kids, you’d better believe there are some active duty guys making it happen behind the scenes.  In my case, there were between two and three of us, and we devoted somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 hours a week from Thanksgiving to Christmas to trying our best to make under privileged kids’ Christmases just a little bit better.

Those aren’t sour grapes – I asked to assist in the Toys for Tots program.  I grew up in the kind of house that could only afford turkey sandwiches on Thanksgiving for the better part of my childhood, where Christmas presents were often used toys purchased from Goodwill or given to us by family, and where Christmas itself was always considered a big deal.  To be honest, it wasn’t even always my desire to get gifts into the hands of kids that drove me to want to help, so much as it was the awful memory of my parents’ embarrassment when I was finally old enough to ask why our Christmases weren’t quite like those enjoyed by other families.

Toys for Tots is a genuinely good program with genuinely good intentions – the problem is that people, by and large, are awful, despicable creatures, and the system put into place to protect the program from said creatures often prevents you from doing what you feel is right.  During my two years managing Toys for Tots for Central Massachusetts, I didn’t meet very many needy kids, but I definitely met my fair share of scam artists, criminals, and bureaucracy.