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Saluting Heroes: Volunteers take charge in tough year for 'Toys for Tots'

'Toys for Tots' is the only non-profit that's sanctioned by the Department of Defense. But, this holiday season is likely to look different for the organization.

MORRILTON, Ark. — An enduring image of the holiday season each year is that of the U.S. Marine that's decked in dress blues, standing over a box of toys. But this year is different, as it's going to take more than just a few former grunts to help spread smiles this holiday season.

The Toys for Tots program is the only non-profit that's officially sanctioned by the Department of Defense. Most years it doesn't rely solely on marines, as volunteers step up to help make the program a success.

"This year is going to probably be a very hard year," said Cpl. David Meyskens, Program Coordinator for Conway. "We're coming out of the pandemic. There's a lot of people still looking for work and there's a lot of people still in maybe a bad position."

Fortunately, Meyskens is familiar with getting out of tough situations. He's been in a quite a few, both on and off the battlefield, including surviving an ambush in Somalia.

"As Marines we overcome, adapt, and we improvise. And when all else fails, we just make it happen," he said. "I see America getting bigger, stronger, and better. This is just our way of giving back to the community and kind of paying it forward."

While the group is focused on giving back to those around them, this year is presenting unique challenges especially when it comes to toy distribution.

"The biggest one is the shipping of merchandise across America," Meyskens said.

The organization has also made it a point to adjust to the ways we shop now, as more and more people begin to shop online rather than face-to-face.

"In years past, [toy drop off] boxes that you saw Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and different businesses like that did very good," Meyskens said. "Now, they're just that giving into the box. Doesn't happen as much as it used to."

The marines gather and distribute toys, then comes the logistics experts, and finally coordinating donations.

"We'll probably receive close to half a million dollars worth of toys from the foundation," he said. "Whatever they can give us, we're grateful for it."

With fewer chances to track donation boxes, it's harder for Meyskens to get a gauge on popular toys for 2021. But, after years of helping foster and protection agencies in the state, he's still aware of reliable ways to spread happiness.

"Basketball gym bags, to makeup kits, to dolls, to action figures," Meyskens said.

Even though there are fewer toy drop-offs, it's still easy give donations. Anyone who wishes to donate can visit Toysfortots.org. Meyskens wants people to know that their donation stays home and helps kids in their area.

Meyskens is confident, knowing the Spirit of Santa is undefeated, and he doesn't plan on letting him down this year.

"I have no doubt in my mind between the foundation, myself, and my fellow Marines across America — that if we need to get toys here, they're going to be here," he said.