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The Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots campaign officially opened Oct. 1 when officials began accepting letters from children and families and distributing collection boxes.

Willie Dash, commandant of the Greater Orangeburg Leathernecks Marine Corps League, Detachment 1259, is the local Toys for Tots coordinator. He replaces longtime director Cindy Smith.

“She just wanted to give it up this year. I’ve been the assistant coordinator for the last few years, but I’ve actually worked with the program off and on since 1993,” Dash said.

The campaign is celebrating its 27th year of partnership with the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program.

Children in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties are being served through this year's campaign.

“Last year we served right around 400 kids,” Dash said.

Children write letters to Santa in care of the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program. Letters must come with a verification of need from a school guidance counselor or church pastor.

A DSS household summary, which confirms who is in a household and their ages, must also be included, Dash said.

Families will be able to register to receive assistance from the program from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following locations: North Road Wal-Mart on Friday-Saturday, Nov. 2-3 and Walmart Neighborhood Market store,  corner of John C. Calhoun Drive and Stonewall Jackson Boulevard, on Friday-Saturday, Nov. 16-17.

The letters will be accepted until Dec. 1. Community residents read the letters and adopt children, but the families of children who are not adopted have an opportunity to visit Santa's Workshop.

While a letter acceptance deadline of Dec. 1 has been set, Dash said the program will work to accommodate those who may have emergency needs.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” he said.

The program assists children ages 2 to 14 in its service region. New, unwrapped toys will be accepted, along with financial gifts for purchasing toys. Individuals can donate online at toysfortots.org if they wish.

The campaign runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 16. Letters from children will be accepted through Dec. 1. This will give every family a chance to apply for Christmas assistance.

“But the quicker they get them in, the better,” Dash said.

Letters will be ready to read on Nov. 1. Toys will be collected through Dec. 15. The deadline for gifts for adopted children is Dec. 13. The toys will be distributed Dec. 15-16.

Dash stressed the importance of volunteers.

“It’s not just the financial donations. We do need people to work in the warehouse to sort toys. We have a few dedicated volunteers that we have annually. The volunteers we have are great, but we could always use more help,” he said.

All donations made to the Orangeburg chapter stay in Orangeburg, Dash said.

He said the local program has an account with the Toys for Tots Foundation. All money goes through that account, but it comes back to the local Toys for Tots program, Dash noted.

Dash said he feels confident the community will come through in a positive way with donations to make Christmas good for the needy children in the service area.

“Orangeburg has always been great. ... I did collections way back when I was still active in the Reserves, (and) the Orangeburg community is always great to us, especially the businesses. We’ve always got great support from the businesses. You couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.

Boxes are being distributed to businesses and churches for the collection of new and unwrapped toys, but that's just one way the community can participate in the effort. Volunteering to sort toys in Santa's Workshop and on distribution days and help parents pick age-appropriate toys for their children are other ways to help, in addition to reading letters and adopting one or more children.

Donating bikes is another big way the community can assist in the effort.

“Bikes are always in high demand. I’ve already got something from some businesses saying they’ll help out with bikes this year. That’s just something we can’t purchase” because program officials are only allowed to spend $30 on a toy, Dash said.

The donation of a secure site measuring at least 3,000 square feet is also needed for storage, he said.

“We’ve been using the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds for the last four or five years. This year distribution will be at Orangeburg County Fairgrounds. But if we have a business or something like that who wants to donate some secure warehouse space, we’d love it,” Dash said.

The program's annual motorcycle toy run will be held the first weekend in December.

People interested in donating a monetary gift or sending in an application can mail it to: 1701 Belleville Road, Orangeburg, SC 29115. All donations should be made out to the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots.

For more information, Dash can be contacted by phone at 803-290-2718 or by email at dashssgttype@aol.com. The Toys for Tots Campaign can also be reached via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MCTFTOrangeburgSC?fref=ts or at https://orangeburg-sc.toysfortots.org/local-coordinator-sites/lco-sites/default.aspx.

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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