When Emmalyn Carpenter, a nine-year-old Lance Corporal in the Young Marines of Hernando, agreed to volunteer at the Second Annual Toys for Tots collection drive and Small Business Saturday in Spring Hill, she had one goal in mind.
“I’m so lucky because I have a good home, a good family, and everything I need. Some kids aren’t so lucky,” she said. “I want to be sure that they have toys for Christmas. If a little girl like me gets her first Barbie doll from Toys for Tots, it could change her life.”
Toys for Tots Hernando County faces a time of great challenge this holiday season as more and more families in this area struggle to provide a happy holiday for their children.
“The need is greater this year,” said Jose Infante, Toys for Tots Coordinator for Hernando County. “Last year in Hernando County, we served more than 1250 families and 2700 kids. This year, at the rate people are registering, we’ll be serving more.”
Of vital assistance, says Infante, are those local businesses that are hosting ‘fun fundraisers’ to ensure that all of these children find something special under the Christmas tree this year. “Their help is so valuable,” he said. “And what I want people to know is that every toy collected in Hernando stays in Hernando.”
On hand, for the special event last weekend were representatives of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots and Young Marines of Hernando, who were onsite collecting toys for children in Hernando County.
Jayden Boyd, staff sergeant of the Young Marines—a program open to kids ages 8–18—is proud to be a leader in this youth leadership program, one based on the mission and values of the United States Marine Corps. “We strive to help people of all ages,” he said. “We don’t have to be in the same boat as these kids to understand their needs. We can help them.”
Young Marine Private Alex Ray, 11, agrees. “Some kids’ parents can’t take care of them,” he said. “We have to help.”
Lance Corporal Tyler Fine, 13, identifies TFT as “a campaign that helps people in need.”
And a few other special guests were on hand to brighten the days of the kids in attendance. Costumed characters such as Spiderman, Darth Vader, the Ghostbusters of Spring Hill, and Mrs. Grinch charmed and entertained the kids.
As the owner of her entertainment company, Two Faced Smiles, Katie Guth, a local educator who portrays Mrs. Grinch, takes a very un-Grinchlike attitude to her role. “I love being here for the kids,” she said. “And I love giving back to the community.”
Danielle Aguayo brought her 2-year-old son Aeri to the event to meet Spiderman, his favorite superhero. The child’s eyes glowed as he exchanged smiles and high-fives with his idol. “I love supporting Toys for Tots,” she said before assuring her little boy that Spiderman “is off to save the day.”
Brad Waldman, owner of Major Toys in Spring Hill, was pleased to host the store’s second annual TFT benefit event. “Last year’s TFT benefit raised thousands of dollars in donations and was about the biggest event we’ve had,” he said. “We want to make this year’s fundraiser even bigger.”
Waldman encourages the community to come out in full force to support Toys for Tots. “So many people are hurting right now, and we as a community need to band together and help,” he said. “Toys for Tots helped my family as a kid, and the cause has always resonated with me.”
Another sponsor of the event was Hits106. Atlanta McDonald, event spokesperson and account executive at Hits 106 said, “Inflation is taking its toll on everyone. More and more people are having trouble just paying for daily necessities, let alone Christmas,” said McDonald. “People who usually love to donate don’t have the extra income to be able to. I know donations are going slow and they need volunteers, too.”
As Jose Infante looked on proudly, the Young Marines took toy donations from guests and smiled as they deposited the toys into the bin. They also stood at attention throughout the event, ready to share information about TFT and the Young Marines program.
In continuation of a community tradition that has lasted 12 years, the 2023 Marine Reserve Toys for Tots: A Day of Giving and Festivity will happen from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at Terlep Chiropractic, 8466 Northcliffe Blvd., Spring Hill, FL 34606-1140. All in attendance will receive free tacos, face paintings, games and shaved ice. Plus, a very special guest known as Santa Claus will be on hand to take photos with guests. In addition, New York Life will be on hand to provide information about the Child Identification Program.
About Young Marines
Young Marines is located in Spring Hill, Florida. The unit meets the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, 0900-1500, at the Marine Corps League Detachment 708, 8405 Sunshine Grove Road. The Young Marines program is open to all youth, ages 8 through 18, currently a student in good standing.
The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members. They teach the importance of self-confidence, academic achievement, honoring our veterans, good citizenship, community service, and living a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.