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Marines get into holiday spirit

A group of Marines from Grissom Air Reserve Base played Santa Claus Thursday by helping provide toys to more than 350 needy families.

From Barbie dolls to toy cars and trucks, the inside of the Salvation Army’s community center on South Waugh Street look more like Santa’s workshop with Casey Claus, no relation to Santa, at the helm.

“Donations are down a little,” Claus said as the Annual Toys for Tots and Salvation Army distribution got underway Thursday. The distribution of food and toys continues today.

“A lot of people are using their money to help tornado victims. It’s been a rough year for everybody,” he said.

Claus said more than 1,000 toys were donated and another 3,000 were purchased with the more than $20,000 raised through individual and business donations.

Originally from Ohio, Claus is a Navy corpsman serving for the Marine Corps.

Living up to the Claus name, he has always had a soft spot for kids.

“I have two little girls and three stepchildren,” he said. “It’s an extremely a rough time for some families.”

“It’s a Marine Corps-sponsored program,” he continued. “This year I volunteered to organize it. I’ve been doing the Toys for Tots program for 11 years when I served in New Haven, Conn. I knew the ins and outs of the program and wanted to make sure everybody has a Christmas. I’m very disturbed, though, that they didn’t let me grow a beard.”

Claus credited his fellow servicemen and women who dedicated their time to the program.

“We spend the whole month of December away from families collecting toys,” he said.

Claus said the program wouldn’t be able to help as many children as it does without the help of local businesses, especially Chrysler, which raised $8,000 for the Toys for Tots program.

The recipients signed up for the Salvation Army and Marine Corps Toys for Tots programs during Goodfellows sign-ups.

Each recipient received a Walmart gift card to buy food for their Christmas dinner before picking out their children’s favorite toy inside the community center.

“It’s our goal to help as many people as we can,” said Nancy Harris, secretary for the Salvation Army.

“We sent out 350 letters and expect all of them to come in,” she said. “We reach out to the community and let them know the services are there for them.”

“It helps out a lot,” said Johnny Spencer just before signing up for the toys and food.

Spencer was hoping to get some toys for his five children, ranging in age from 3 to 16 years old.

“It’s really a blessing,” he said.

Gunnery Sgt. Korey Wight was one of about 11 Marines who helped parents pick out toys.

“This is a beautiful program,” he said. “It’s good that we can be able to help those less fortunate.”

“This is my first year with the program,” said 1st Sgt. Greg Zieba as he helped Ashley Wilson choose toys for her four children.

“Everything we collected goes back to the community.”

“My daughter loves Barbies and the boys want skateboards and basketballs,” said Wilson as she checked out the selection of toys.

“It helps out a lot,” she said. “I just got separated, I don’t get any child support and I make about $400 a month. It feels good to be able to get some stuff for Christmas.”

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