Fort Lewis Northwest Guardian, 5 December 2008
Toy drive exceeds expectations
Barbara L. Sellers/Northwest Guardian
It’s not unusual for Soldiers to go on a four-mile road march, but the 555th Engineer Brigade’s road march Nov. 26 to the American Lake Community Center was special.
About 1,000 Soldiers carried toys in their rucksacks to donate to Santa’s Castle.
“We have been doing this for about 18 years,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Couture, 555 Engr. Bde. “We have easily collected an estimate of about $10,000 worth of toys.”
There were no price limits set on the toys that the Soldiers donated, he said. How much each Soldier donated was left up to individual Soldiers based on what they felt they could afford.
“I got one for each age group,” Couture said.
According to Capt. Warrentina Berry, one of the coordinators of the toy drive, many of the Soldiers, including himself, brought multiple toys.
Examples of toys collected were DVD players, boom boxes, watches, clothes and stuffed animals.
After the Soldiers dropped the toys off in one big pile in front of the American Lake Community Center, 12 volunteer elves from the brigade stayed behind to load the toys into trucks to deliver them to Santa’s Castle.
Sergeant Jeff Green, 555th Engr. Bde. said he donated toys because it’s for a good cause and he really likes kids. Sergeant Nathan Watt, who also participated in the march, said, “I donated toys because I’m a new father and I want to bring smiles to young children’s faces, just like I do for my son.”
The brigade’s donations far exceeded expectations, said Sgt. 1st Class Sean Ciardi, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery.
“Everybody was really motivated to participate in this year’s annual holiday tradition,” Ciardi said. “Many of the Soldiers donated more than one toy.”
Santa’s Castle will service about 900 families and 2,100 children this year, said Antoinette Ziino-McKitrick, chairperson of Santa’s Castle.
“Because of the generosity of the brigade Soldiers, more children will have a better Christmas,” she said. “This year we expected an increase in the number of participants, but we were rather surprised that we had an increase of a full 10 percent more than last year.”
On top of that, there are probably about 50 more families they don’t know about yet that will also need help, she said.
“That’s why the generosity of the Soldiers is so greatly appreciated,” Ziino-McKitrick said.
“All of our cash donations this year were desperately needed to accommodate this unexpected increase of families that need our help.”
Santa’s Castle received a $5,000 donation from America’s Credit Union, $3,000 from Hawk’s Prairie Rotary Club, $5,000 from TRI-WEST, $800 in cash and more than 600 toys from 80th Ordnance Battalion, as well as generous cash donations from the local Veteran’s of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
“KGY Radio Station has pledged a toy drive on Saturday, and the KMPS radio station has pledged to conduct a toy drive for us on Dec. 12,” Ziino-McKitrick said. “Many remarkable individuals have made donations, too.”
She said they are also grateful for the multiple military organizations that donated coloring books and crayons on Make a Difference Day.
Barbara L. Sellers: email@example.com