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Luke Pacheco, 7, donates a toy to Cpl. Jason Areiza, 24, during the Toys for Tots Drive on Camp Foster Saturday. Volunteer Marines filled a bus with toys collected for needy children throughout Okinawa.
Luke Pacheco, 7, donates a toy to Cpl. Jason Areiza, 24, during the Toys for Tots Drive on Camp Foster Saturday. Volunteer Marines filled a bus with toys collected for needy children throughout Okinawa. (David Allen / S&S)
Luke Pacheco, 7, donates a toy to Cpl. Jason Areiza, 24, during the Toys for Tots Drive on Camp Foster Saturday. Volunteer Marines filled a bus with toys collected for needy children throughout Okinawa.
Luke Pacheco, 7, donates a toy to Cpl. Jason Areiza, 24, during the Toys for Tots Drive on Camp Foster Saturday. Volunteer Marines filled a bus with toys collected for needy children throughout Okinawa. (David Allen / S&S)
Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick McIntyre, 21, loads a child’s bicycle onto the “Ho Ho Express” Saturday during the final push for the Toys for Tots drive on Okinawa.
Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick McIntyre, 21, loads a child’s bicycle onto the “Ho Ho Express” Saturday during the final push for the Toys for Tots drive on Okinawa. (David Allen / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The holiday spirit definitely was in the air here Saturday as customers packed the exchange to shop for gifts — and most made sure they picked up a toy or two for the Toys for Tots boxes as they left.

“It’s been like this all over,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick J. McIntyre just after noon, as he loaded bags of unwrapped toys onto Santa’s “Ho Ho Express,” a special coach bus donated by the Marines’ Green Line interbase bus system.

“We’ll have this filled by the end of the day,” said the 21-year-old Marine in dress blues.

The bus made the rounds of Okinawa military bases Saturday during the last weekend of the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots drive, a program that began in 1947. The campaign on Okinawa was shooting for 15,000 donated toys for needy American and Okinawan children.

Some of the Marines collecting toys on Saturday, like McIntyre, volunteered what free time they had during the holiday season to make the drive a success.

“It feels good to give some toys to kids that don’t have much for Christmas,” he said.

Other Marines went the extra mile.

At the Camp Foster exchange, Cpl. Jason Areiza, 24, from Brooklyn, N.Y., took 15 days of leave to work full-time for the program.

“I wanted to give myself 100 percent to this cause,” he said, standing by the collection box and accepting the presents donated by shoppers.

“I do a lot of the driving, picking up toys around the island, delivering them to our warehouse and dividing them into the three groups — unisex, boys and girls — and then by ages. But the really good part is delivering the toys to the schools and hospitals and other organizations distributing them to the kids.”

The smiles on the children’s faces are what makes it all worthwhile, he said.

“By volunteering I feel I can help a poor child’s life be just a little bit better,” he said. “Christmas is all about giving. I just came back from a party at Camp Shields for some Okinawa kids. It actually gets to you, seeing their happiness as they open their gifts.”

Nearby, Marine Sgt. Joshua Ricafrente, 24, took a toy from another shopper.

“I love doing this,” he said. “I get to give something back to the community — especially to the Okinawans. It shows them the Marines are more than just war-fighters.”

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