Toys for Tots serves 1,900 Mountain Area children

Christmas - For most children a special time spent with family, an opportunity to meet Santa, and the pure joy and excitement of opening presents placed under a decorated tree. For 1,500 Mountain Area children, Christmas morning was a little brighter than it would have been thanks to the Marine Crops League Griswold Mountain Detachment 1121 of Oakhurst, and a generous community. The league, in close partnership with 20 schools, 15 churches, government agencies, service clubs, and business sponsors, delivered more than 4,000 toys valued at $60,000 to 1,900 children in need, just in time for Christmas.

The number of children who were assisted by the toy drive was up 500 from the prior year.

All the toys collected were separated by gender and age to ensure the right presents were going to the right child. On average, each child received two presents and stocking stuffers.

This year’s toy drive coordinator was Dennis Osantowski, assisted by Dorothy Zuber, who took over the massive operation from Mike and Brenda Perreira who served as Santa’s helpers for 10 years.

“I want to thank all the individuals who made donations of toys, cash and checks during the toy drive,” Osantowski said. “We had people who anonymously donated anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. Mountain Area businesses, service clubs, churches, schools, the sheriff’s department and Cal Fire were all big contributors to make the toy drive the success it was.”

Osantowski was proud of the fact that Mountain Area residents all came together for Mountain Area children.

“Every dollar and every toy collected in Eastern Madera County stayed in our area to help children and families in need - and we deeply appreciate every donor.”

Osantowski, a four-year veteran of the Marine Corps, moved to Yosemite Lakes Park in March of 2013 from the Bay Area. Soon after arriving in Coarsegold, he joined the Griswold Mountain Detachment 1121, and was anxious to get involved with the Toys for Tots drive.

The annual Toy Round-Up, the largest event of the season for the Marine Corps League Griswold Mountain Detatchment 1121 was held Dec. 6 in the parking lot of the Old Mill Shopping Center (Vons). According to Osantowski, detachment volunteers collected nearly 300 toys and about $3,000 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 and Ahwahnee stations. The Yosemite High School Cheer and Pep squads held a bake sale throughout the day and donated an additional $1,355 to Toys for Tots, and Round Table Pizza donated $200 from pizza sales that day.

In addition to the Toy Round-Up, other special events were held for the drive including a wine tasting at Idle Hour Winery, a one-for-one toy drive at True Value Hardware, and a Christmas Boutique held by the Christ Church Women.

Other major sponsors this year were Sullivan’s Tire Pros, Cal Fire, the Madera County Fire Department, Madera County Sheriff's Department, Mountain Bear Fan Club, Northland Communications, Oakhurst Shopping Center (Eric Wilkins), Sierra Star, Sierra Tel, Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), Sunrise Rotary Club, True Value Home Center in Yosemite Lakes Park, Yosemite Brokage, and 41-49 Property Management.

The Mountain Area Toys for Tots drive started 12 years ago. The first year, 300 underprivileged children were served with $5,000 worth of toys. Over the past 10 years, the Griswold Mountain Detachment has collected more than $450,000 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 expanded the program nationwide. Since then, the program has collected and distributed close to 487 million toys.

“This is what Toys for Tots is all about ... communities coming together to help those in need,” Osantowski added. “Next year, should families find themselves in need, we urge them to get an application at their child’s school. We feel confident that the generous people of Eastern Madera county will ‘take care of its own’ and Toys for Tots will be there to help.”