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’Tis the Friday before Thanksgiving — and for some, ’tis a special day.

Not for shopping, for which the Friday after Thanksgiving is known. Today marks the kickoff to the annual Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign, now in its 56th year.

“Every year, the foundation likes to try to kick it off around the holiday season to bring some attention to the program, and we picked the Friday before Thanksgiving because people are giving thanks and, well, it’s the unofficial official beginning of the Christmas season,” said Bill Grein, vice president of the foundation’s marketing and development.

While Toys for Tots is the Marine Corps Reserve’s big project, a civilian-run foundation has taken on tasks such as working with social service agencies to identify needy children who become recipients of the millions of toys collected between Friday and Dec. 19, he said.

And while some Marines stationed at embassies hold toy drives to dole out gifts to orphanages, for example, Toys for Tots is primarily a stateside project.

“But we’re part of the Combined Federal Campaign and we do well in overseas donations,” he said. “I can’t help but think this is a way for people to reach out from across the oceans and feel more Christmassy, more in touch with being ‘home’ for the holidays.”

No U.S. children overseas are recipients of the toys.

“The program is designed to give back to the [stateside] communities in which we live and work in,” he said of Corps in general. “It’s a way for us to say ‘Hey, we appreciate you having us here and what you do and we’re here to help take care of your needy children.’”

And while there are military families who might need the help, there are alternatives for those folks, Grein said.

“The Marine Corps is pretty good about that. If there is someone who knows a young lance corporal, for example, who is married with two children and barely making it, most likely they’ll be taken care of within the command rather than having Toys for Tots get involved.”

They just need to reach out for the help, he added.

Last year, the campaign netted $12 million in donations and collected about $25 million worth of toys people dropped off at countless donation sites that pepper the nation, he said.

There’s really no goal this year, though they’d obviously like to do as well as last year, if not better, he said.

Toys for Tots last year reached 5.7 million of the nation’s estimated 15 million children who fall at or below the poverty level, he said.

Donations can be made through the Web site at: www.toysfortots.org, through the CFC, or by mailing donations to Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, P.O. Box 1947, Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA 22134.

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