Once again, residents and businesses of the Mountain Area opened their hearts and wallets to provide Christmas morning smiles for nearly 1,200 children with more than 4,500 new toys valued at $50,000 found under the tree.
The 2016 Toys for Tots campaign for Eastern Madera County was orchestrated by the Marine Corps League Griswold Mountain Detachment 1121 with Dennis Osantowski serving as coordinator for the third year.
All the toys collected were separated by gender and age to ensure the right presents went to the right child. On average, each child received three presents plus stocking stuffers.
“I continue to be grateful for all the individuals who made donations of toys, cash and checks during the toy drive,” Osantowski said. “This whole season was an outpouring of compassion from all the mountain communities. This is what Toys for Tots means. It would not have been possible without the dedication of all the volunteers, and the giving nature of area residents, businesses, and organizations.”
Osantowski said many people anonymously donated anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars.
“Every dollar and every toy collected in Eastern Madera County stayed in the Mountain Area to help children and families in need - and we greatly appreciate every donor.”
The annual Toy Round-Up, the largest event of the season for the Griswold Mountain Detachment, was held Dec. 3 in the parking lot of the Old Mill Village Shopping Center (Vons). According to Osantowski, detachment volunteers collected nearly 430 toys and $1,900 in cash donations during the six-hour event.
The detachment was assisted by Madera County Fire Department Station 12 (Oakhurst) and Cal Fire’s Bass Lake stations. The Minarets High School cheer squad held a bake sale throughout the day and donated all profits to Toys for Tots. California Highway Patrol and Madera County Search and Rescue provided vehicles for the education and awareness of county residents and their children. Private citizens from Coarsegold, Barry Beeson and Aaron Hoffschneider, displayed their restored vintage military vehicles.
Yosemite High School student Tori Rich assisted throughout the campaign for her Senior Project and YHS student Brendan Gillaspy assisted the Toys For Tots campaign organized by the USMCR from LeMoore NAS, which also sent two Marines who helped out at the Coarsegold and Oakhurst Round-Up events.
In addition to the Toy Round-Up, other special events were held for the drive including a wine tasting at Idle Hour Winery, a toy-for-toy drive at True Value Home Center, and a Christmas Boutique held by the Christ Church Women.
Major sponsors who made donations or collected toys included Coarsegold, Bass Lake, Raymond and Oakhurst post offices, CVS Pharmacy, Ducey’s Restaurant, Slim’s Koffee Shack, Sun Mountain Gun Club, Oakhurst Family Chiropractic, Sullivan’s Tire Pros, Dr. Rodney Peter DDS, Xi Chi Beta Sorority, Sierra Mountain Quilters Association, VFW Post 8743, Raley’s and Grocery Outlet markets, Road Rattlers car club and the Coarsegold Chamber of Commerce.
Others included Campora Propane, Mountain Bear Fan Club, Advanced Auto Care, Allstate Insurance, Coarsegold Car Care, Miner’s Grill, YLP Clubhouse and Pro Shop, Quality Auto Care, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank, Yosemite Bank, United Security Bank, Oakhurst Shopping Center (Eric Wilkins), the Sierra Star, Sierra Tel, Yosemite Mortgage and 41-49 Property Management.
The Mountain Area Toys for Tots drive started more than 15 years ago. The first year, 300 children were served with $5,000 worth of toys. Over the past 15 years, the Griswold Mountain Detachment has collected nearly $640,000 in toys and cash contributions for the children of Eastern Madera County.
Toys for Tots began in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks, with support from members of his Los Angeles Marine Corps Reserve unit, collected and distributed toys to needy children. The next year the Marine Corps officially adopted and expanded the program nationwide. Since then, the program has collected and distributed close to 500 million toys.