Marines to the rescue

HOUGHTON – Toys for Tots began with a single doll in 1947, and now the program of the United States Marine Corps Reserve has more than 700 campaigns across the country.

Jim Mattson, Toys for Tots coordinator for the Keweenaw Detachment No. 1016 of the Marine Corps League, said soon after 1947, the program passed from direct control of the Marine Corps.

“It quickly became a program of the Marine Corps reserve,” he said.

Since the 1990s, Mattson said local community organizations, such as the Keweenaw Detachment, run the program in communities without a Reserve presence. The closest Reserve office to the western Upper Peninsula is in Green Bay.

The Keweenaw Detachment formed in 1999, Mattson said.

“Immediately that year we did pick up the Toys for Tots campaign,” he said.

For the past several years, Mattson said the Keweenaw Detachment Toys for Tots campaign has collected more than 4,000 toys each year, which are distributed to about 1,000 children 12 years old or younger in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties.

However, because Keweenaw County Sheriff Ron Lahti has his own No Kid Without a Christmas toy collection program, Mattson said the Keweenaw Detachment doesn’t do much collecting in Keweenaw County.

Currently, Mattson said Toys for Tots has 12 collection boxes placed in various locations in Baraga, Houghton and Ontonagon counties. They have boxes in front of Walmart and Shopko Hometown in Calumet Township and L’Anse, among others.

“There’s a lot of small (businesses) out there,” he said.

Also collecting for Toys for Tots are Houghton High School and the Houghton County Bar Association, Mattson said. Some businesses will use Toys for Tots at their Christmas parties.

“The price of admission to the party is to bring a toy for Toys for Tots,” he said.

The toys collected are distributed to families identified as needing help by the Department of Social Services, Mattson said. The parents are contacted and asked if they’d like to receive toys.

Some churches are collecting toys for Toys for Tots, also, Mattson said, including churches in some very small communities in Baraga and Houghton counties where a large number of items are collected.

“It’s quite amazing,” he said. “It’s truly small-town America.”

The Keweenaw Detachment will collect toys until the middle of December, Mattson said.