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Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Grant visits a Toys for Tots collection box Friday at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, where he recently donated thousands of dollars worth of toys to needy children.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Grant visits a Toys for Tots collection box Friday at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, where he recently donated thousands of dollars worth of toys to needy children. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — It all started four years ago with a Tickle Me Elmo doll.

Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Grant figured he’d do his part to support the Toys for Tots drive at Whidbey Island, Wash., and he tossed the doll into his shopping cart.

Then he eyed a few more toys, thinking he could help more children.

"If you give one toy to one kid in an orphanage, that can change that child’s world," said Grant, now working for Commander Fleet Air, Western Pacific. "But if you can give hundreds of toys, that can have a really dramatic effect."

Grant, 29, ended up filling his cart and spending $300 on orphans and needy children he would never know, but whom he knew would be grateful to have brand new toys for the holiday season.

Not long afterward, the Warwick, R.I., native vowed that with every pay increase or promotion, he would donate more toys.

By 2008, Japan’s healthy cost-of-living adjustment helped increase Grant’s contribution to $1,000.

The Marines running the Toys for Tots program at Naval Air Facility Atsugi were thrilled, though they didn’t know who to thank just yet.

"Last year, he did it covertly," said Gunnery Sgt. James Cainguitan, of Guam, a Toys for Tots volunteer who also works with Grant.

As an E-6 for a year now, Grant had already planned to give even more this holiday season.

The day after Thanksgiving, a lucky break allowed Grant to surpass his own expectations.

Grant had to be at nearby Camp Zama for work at 4 a.m., when he saw a sign at the post exchange offering a buy-one, get-one-free promotion, along with other sales running from 6 to 9 a.m.

Grant spent about $1,500, but with the discounts, he was able to donate about $3,000 worth of toys to Atsugi’s program.

Some of the toys collected at Atsugi have been distributed already to Japanese orphanages and shelters, Cainguitan said.

Grant said he simply enjoys the feeling that comes with doing something to make children’s lives better.

"A lot of guys have family responsibilities with their money around Christmas time," Grant said. "I feel like, since I’m not married and have no kids, I can spend the money this way. … It’s almost like I pretend I’m giving it to my own kids."


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