Toys for Tots program grows in Korea
December 19, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — In South Korea, the Marines truly are few but proud. Of a force of almost 37,000 U.S. servicemembers on the peninsula, fewer than 100 belong to the Marine Corps.
But that hasn’t stopped them from carrying on one of the Corps’ most visible non-combat missions: Toys for Tots. This year, officials said, Marine Forces Korea already has almost doubled the number of toys it gathered all of last season.
On Wednesday, five Marines in crisp dress uniforms went to Seoul American Elementary School to pick up hundreds of toys gathered and donated by students there.
For one Yongsan Marine, the project has special meaning. Staff Sgt. Serge Raveau was raised in an orphanage, he said, and was on the receiving end of others’ generosity not too long ago.
“It’s an outstanding feeling to be able to help other kids,” he told students Wednesday. “I was a very happy camper when it happened for me. It was an awesome feeling.”
The toys gathered by students — and donated by other members of the military community in South Korea — are being delivered to some 30 orphanages throughout the country, said Maj. Bruce Youngbluth, who is helping to organize and run the program.
Last year, he said, $9,000 worth of toys were distributed to two different orphanages. This year, the Marines plan to hit 30 orphanages and already have gathered more than $15,000 worth of toys.
They will continue accepting donations of new, unwrapped presents until Monday, Youngbluth said.
If they gather enough toys, the Marines plan to send some to be distributed by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines and the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Marines also will give hundreds of toys to Yongsan’s Army Community Services center, which then will distribute them to needy military families on bases in South Korea.
“You guys are making a big difference in a little boy or a little girl’s life,” said Heather Heft, in whose classroom the third- and fifth-graders had gathered to donate the toys. “And that’s a big deal.”
Seeing the Marines in their dress uniforms seemed a big deal for the kids, as well. They asked questions about what Marines do, whether they rode in submarines and who would be getting the toys they worked so hard to collect.
Youngbluth told the kids their generosity would be “well used.”
“This will help us fill a need and make somebody’s Christmas merry,” he said, motioning towards the pile of toys in the classroom.