S. Koreans assisting in toy drive
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Two years before Staff Sgt. Serge Raveau was born, the U.S. Marine Corps began collecting presents for children who otherwise would have had little to celebrate on Christmas morning.
Raveau, 45, of Brooklyn, N.Y., understands how that feels. He grew up in an orphanage run by the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island and remembers the importance of donated toys.
“I appreciated that,” Raveau said Monday afternoon as he took a load of toys back to Marine Forces Korea headquarters on Yongsan Garrison. “Now I feel like I’m paying back for what was done for me.”
Raveau is heading this year’s Toys for Tots collections throughout South Korea. He’s trying to bolster the collections this year by putting up more barrels at bases throughout the peninsula. He’s also persuaded the Republic of Korea Marines to help this season, the first time the two countries have worked together in the toy drive.
“I’ve been involved since I was a young lad waiting to go to boot camp,” said Raveau, who has been a Marine for almost 18 years. “It really rocked my world.”
Raveau is working with the Army Community Service Center to distribute toys to lower-ranking servicemembers who qualify.
“They do it every year,” Raveau said, adding that the families also get food vouchers to help with the holiday meal. “You have young soldiers who can’t make ends meet.”
Once those families have been helped, the leftover toys will go to Korean orphanages, he said. That program has been easier this year with the help of ROK Marines who can translate for the U.S. Marines.
“This event is very good and very meaningful to Korea, especially for small children, small orphans in Korea,” said ROK Capt. Jeong Woo-jin, who works as a liaison officer with Marine Forces Korea. “Maybe we can participate every year in the future.”
About 85 Marines from Marine Forces Korea are stationed permanently at Yongsan, said Col. Dan Melton, U.S. Marine Forces Korea deputy commander. He said it was Raveau’s idea to get more people involved.
“This is really a big thing for him,” Melton said.
It’s also a big deal for the Korean children, whether or not they celebrate Christmas, Melton said.
“It’s to give these children something they wouldn’t receive,” he said. “That’s what’s important. Some of the orphanages are secular, some are Buddhist.”
Donation barrels are placed around Yongsan and Hannam Village, including at the commissaries, the PX, the Four Seasons toy store and Dragon Hill Lodge. For every toy or cash donation, the donor gets a raffle ticket that could win two free round-trip tickets on Northwest Airlines, Raveau said.
Most of the toys will be distributed by Dec. 22, Raveau said.