Marines make sure Christmas happens for area kids

Sam Martin, left, and Rich Culley sorts toys that have been given to the 2013 Kitsap Toys for Tots program. Toys will be given to kids at a party on Dec. 14. - Leslie Kelly
Sam Martin, left, and Rich Culley sorts toys that have been given to the 2013 Kitsap Toys for Tots program. Toys will be given to kids at a party on Dec. 14.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

Santa and the elves ain’t got nothin’ on Sam Martin and Gina Coy. In fact, they could take lessons from them.

Martin and Coy are the powerhouse behind this year’s U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots drive in Kitsap County.

Martin has 34 years of experience with the drive and Coy, whose been participating since she was a teenager, has been working with Martin on the Kitsap drive for the past three years.

It’s through their hard work, and that of about 75 to 100 other volunteers, that more than 2,500 children and teens in Kitsap County get toys and gifts each year at the holidays.

“Once you see the smiles on the kids faces,” Martin said, “You never have to question why you’re involved in this.”

Toys for Tots in Kitsap County works a bit differently than in other locales. Members of the local Marine Corps League put out bins and accept toy donations beginning Nov. 17. They also collect financial donations. And active duty Marines stand guard at drop sites at the Kitsap Mall and other places during the holiday shopping rush.

But all the toys are stockpiled and sorted in the Van Zee building at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds until Dec. 14 when a big party happens during which toys are given to needy children and teens.

“It’s been our tradition that we host a party,” said Martin. “We have a couple of Santas there for the kids to talk to, lots of decorations, and we give them candy canes and gifts.”

This year’s party is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Presidents’ Hall and those who can attend are qualified at the door by showing proof that they are on some kind of county or state assistance program.

“Santa tells the children take their toys home and put them under the Christmas tree and then on Christmas morning remember that they got their toys early because Santa needed to get a head start on the delivery process,” Wilson said.

Last year, local Marines gathered 7,000 toys which allowed each child who attended to have two toys, with some to spare. Toys are kept in a storage unit that is provided to the campaign at no charge by United Moving and Storage on Highway 303.

Martin hopes to beat that number this year.

“Until you attend one of these parties, you don’t realize how much need there is in Kitsap County,” he said. “There are a lot of poor families right here.”

Typically, the age groups that are least often donated for are babies and toddlers ages 0 to 4 years, and boys and girls ages 10 to 13 years.

“When we get financial donations, we can use those to go and buy toys or gifts for the age groups where we come up short in donations,” he said.

There is a $30 cap on what can be spent on each gift, he added.

For several years, Joanne Gavin has been the local Toys for Tots coordinator. This year, Coy is in training to take over that position after working alongside Martin and Gavin the past three years.

Coy became familiar with Toys for Tots when she was young and living in New Mexico.

“My father was a Marine and he and my mom did a lot with Toys for Tots,” she said. “Where we were in New Mexico, there wasn’t a program. So my parents started it.”

Coy has lived in New Mexico and in Bremerton, where her father was stationed early-on in his military career. When she moved back to Kitsap County and linked up with Martin.

“She went to school with my youngest daughter,” Martin said of Coy. “So I got her to join on with us.”

The coordinator position means “tons of phone calls” organizing every aspect of the toy drive. Coordinators also have to make sure there are snacks and meals donated to feed the volunteers while they are working. Martin helps out and is the go-between with the Marines and the national Toys for Tots organization. He’s hoping that he can pass on all the work to Coy in 2014.

“I’m getting old and I need to make sure someone can carry on after me,” he said.

His desire to helps children came after his service in Vietnam.

“When I was injured, I was in the hospital in Saigon,” he said “At the other end of my floor were kids who has been burned with napalm. It was so heartbreaking to see children hurt like that, that I promised myself I would do something to make the world a better place for kids. Being a Marine, Toys for Tots seemed like the right thing.”

Volunteers begin setting up and decorating Presidents’ Hall, where the party is held, a few days prior. All the toys are moving and arranged by age groups.

This is the last year that Kitsap County will provide the buildings at the fairgrounds at no charge to Toys for Toys, Martin said.

“Starting next year, the county has told us they’re going to have to charge us rental fees for the building where we collect the toys and for Presidents Hall where we have the party,” he said. “That’s a real problem for us because we can’t pay those fees.

“All the money we get goes directly to purchase toys. So come next year, I’m not sure we’ll have a toy drive or a party.”

But for now, Martin and Coy are focused on this year’s event. Toys can be dropped off through Dec. 8 at the Van Zee building at the fairgrounds Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Drop boxes also are located at the Kitsap Mall, the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce in the mall, and ToysRUs, 3567 NW Randall Way in Silverdale.

After the party, until Dec. 18 toys will continue to be collected (at drop sites) and will then be distributed to children in need through local social service agencies or stored for next year’s drive.

Martin wants everyone to know that anything — toys and money — that is given in Kitsap County stays in Kitsap County to help children here.

He’s looking for some sponsorships so that he can buy the volunteers and active duty Marines who participate gift cards, certificates or plaques to honor them. He can be reached at 360-692-7233.

And Martin added, whenever anyone asks him if he believes in Santa, he says, “Yes.”

“Because I get his bills,” he said.


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