Marines in dress uniforms doff their covers and get down to work with the other volunteers from the Marine League. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

Ooh rah, it’s Christmas!

USMC Toys for Tots program prepares to play Santa to almost 2,000 Kitsap kids

BREMERTON — Want to rekindle the true spirit of Christmas and that magical feeling of joy that you felt as a child? Come down to the President’s Hall at the Kitsap Fairgrounds between now and Dec. 17 and volunteer to help out the Marines with Toys for Tots.

The 19,000-square-foot hall has been divided in two with a blue curtain wall. In front of the curtain is a maze of guides and tables, enough to handle an estimated 1,800 children and their grownups on Dec. 17.

Behind the curtain is Santa’s workshop; heaps of toys on tables — almost a quarter acre of them — carefully grouped by age and gender. There are also dozens of Santa’s helpers (some in U.S. Marine Corps dress uniform, others wearing “Retired Marine” ball caps, all Marines because once in, never out).

There are scads of Marine wives, too, “because they are the brains of the outfit,” said Marine Corps League Commandant MSgt. Jason Selby (USMC, ret.), who is in his second year of spearheading the project.

And there are toys, toys, toys everywhere.

“Twenty-six, girls, 7 to 9 years,” shouts toy sorter Lindsey Ingram, placing the toys on the appropriate table.

“Thirty-three, boys, 9 to 12 years,” shouts another sorter to Sandy Smith, the operations coordinator who records such things.

“Sixteen, boys, teen,” calls another.

Joyful mayhem.

And the big cardboard boxes full of trucks and teddy bears and fire engines and games and bicycles just keep coming in the big, roll-up door.

These boxes contain more than toys. They contain stories, too:

The little boy who asked for money for his birthday so he could buy toys for less fortunate kids this Christmas.

The family of four whose family Christmas present this year was four new bicycles — which they donated to Toys for Tots.

The employees at Toys “R” Us who took the time to put back a few popular toys for Toys for Tots whenever the toys went on sale during the year. (The toy store also gives Toys for Tots a sizable discount).

The Kitsap County Commissioners who donate the use of the hall, tables, chairs and curtains. “That gesture saves us $15,000,” Selby said. “We start each year with zero dollars, so that $15,000 savings equates to about 12 of those big four-foot-tall by four-foot-wide by two-foot-deep cardboard boxes full of toys.”

All of this orchestrated effort will come to a head on Dec. 17 when some 1,800 children and their grownups line up in the front half of the hall. Depending on age and gender, each child will get a ticket that might say, for instance, “Boy, three years.” He or she gives that “golden ticket” to a Marine who then goes behind the big, blue curtain and “shops,” filling a large “Santa Bag” with toys and goodies which he brings back and gives to the child along with the whispered reminder, “Don’t open it until Christmas.”

“This marks the 28th year of Toys for Tots Kitsap. “And it’s still an all-volunteer operation,” Selby said, watching the well-organized operation with the eagle eye of a master sergeant preparing for a troop deployment. “No one gets paid in money.”

But everyone who helps goes home feeling very rich indeed.

Want to rekindle the Christmas Spirit? If you would like to volunteer to help with Toys for Tots, contact Sandy Smith, 360-286-6144. Help is needed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Dec. 16-17.

If you’d like to make a gift online or request a toy for your child, go to www.belfair-wa.toysfortots.org.

Checking out at Toys R Us. Mark Briant/Kitsap Daily News

Checking out at Toys R Us. Toys R Us employees set back popular toys when they are on sale so that the Marines get “the good stuff” and at a great, discounted price. Mark Briant/Kitsap Daily News

Stuffies! Stocking stuffers have their own special place in the almost one0quarter acre of toys. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

Volunteering with Toys for Tots in Kitsap County: from left, MSgt. Jason Selby (ret.), Cpl. Jairo Garcia, SSgt. Nate Gilbert, Cpl. Abran Baramila, Sgt. Joshua Rowell, and Sgt. Vince Smith (ret.). Terryl Asla/ Kitsap News Group

“Thirty-two, girls, ages 6 to 8,” calls out one of Santa’s helpers, counting the number of toys and for whom they are intended. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

Gunny helps unload another pick-up load of toys. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

“One pink bike!” Volunteer unloads one of four brand-new bicycles that were donated by a family. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

Volunteers sort and count the toys as they come in. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

Waiting for the kids. Beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday morning, Dec. 17th, these empty aisles will fill up bright-eyed children and their grownups. In addition to their children, grownups should bring ID showing they are receiving state or federal aid and a piece of mail with the family’s current address. Kitsap Toys for Tots serves Kitsap County and north Mason County, including Belfair and Allyn. Terryl Asla/Kitsap Daily News

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