Toys for Tots brings joy to Wilton children

It’s the season for giving, and once again, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program is spreading gifts to children in need throughout the holidays.

The program’s mission is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December, and bring smiles to children on Christmas.

Donation boxes may be found all around Wilton, said Henry Norley, area coordinator for Toys for Tots.

“We put our collection boxes in schools and businesses,” he said. “Our campaign goes from mid-November to the week before Christmas.”

Mr. Norley said that, while donations had been down over the past few years, he’s very pleased with the response this season.

“We’re doing quite well. The number of collection stations are up. We only had seven last year, but we’ve doubled that. I’m heartened by the activity so far.”

He said that donations were down due, in part, to the economy, but he wasn’t sure what the other reasons were for the lack of past donations.

That was then, of course, and this is now. The donations are flowing in, and Mr. Norley praised Middlebrook School, in particular, for its effort.

“They have 10 boxes, and they do a great job,” he said.

The program began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks started it in Los Angeles. He collected more than 5,000 toys, with the first one being a handmade doll. The United States Marine Corps adopted the program in 1948 and rolled it out nationwide.

Interestingly, the Toys for Tots logo was designed by Walt Disney, who also created the first national poster for the organization. The effort picked up steam with the support of many famous faces, from cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny to entertainers like Frank Sinatra. Former first lady Nancy Reagan served as a national spokeswoman.

Toys for Tots stretched into the sports world for the first time in 1962, when the Yankees hosted an event geared at bringing toys to Yankee Stadium. The game against the Washington Senators was a success, and now teams and athletes from every sport support Toys for Tots.

In 2012, nearly 16.8 million toys were distributed to more than 7 million children. Locally, almost 26,000 toys were collected.

“It’s a pretty time-consuming effort, but it’s such a worthwhile adventure,” Mr. Norley said.

The Marines do not distribute the toys themselves. However, area charities and entities such as social services departments try to fulfill each child’s wish with two toys.

He said he hears stories from social service individuals, as well as churches, about the demand, but also about the joy the toys bring to children.

“It’s great to hear the stories,” he said. “The kids are so happy. However, I just had people in from New Milford social services, who were telling me about the kids that they take care of. Just three years ago, they were servicing 15 families. It’s 65 now. The need has escalated.”

While New Milford, for instance, isn’t known for being an area of economic depression, Mr. Norley noted there are stories to be found in every town, and Wilton is no exception.

“The thing that comes back to me is there’s a need everywhere,” he said. “Parents have lost jobs and toys aren’t a top priority. Everyone has to figure out what to pay for first, but with Toys for Tots, we’re able to help these kids.”

Donation boxes have been “overflowing,” according to Mr. Norley, and can be found all over Wilton and surrounding towns.

The Wilton Firefighters Local 2233 and the Wilton Fire Department are among the many participants, from churches to schools to businesses. They collect new, unwrapped toys through Dec. 18 at either Fire Station 1 at 236 Danbury Road or Station 2 at 707 Ridgefield Road. With every toy the firefighters receive, donors will be given a coupon for a free slice of pizza at Pinoccio Pizza. Additional information may be found at or by calling firefighter Brian Elliott at 203-834-6248.

Westy Self Storage in Wilton is also serving as a collection center, but in addition will provide storage for the donations and make the final delivery to the Marine Corps.

“We are honored to again participate in the Toys for Tots program,” said Joe Schweyer, district director of Westy Self Storage in Wilton. “We welcome the opportunity to assist our community and help where we can.”

“We truly appreciate everyone’s support,” Mr. Norley added.

For more on the national Toys for Tots program, visit Locally, visit

Wilton businesses with collection centers are:

• Coldwell Banker — 77 Old Ridgefield Road.

• College Nannies & Tutors — 396 Danbury Road.

• Cubesmart — 111 Danbury Road.

• Bruce Bennett Nissan — 978 Danbury Road.

• Hoffman Landscaping — 647 Danbury Road.

• Ring’s End — 129 Danbury Road.

• Starbucks — 21 River Road #100.

• The Toy Chest — 21 River Rd # 700.

• Toozy Patza Pizza — 991 Danbury Road.

• Vintage Salsa and Rotisserie — 7 Station Road.

• Wilton Auto & Tire — 210 Danbury Road.

• Wilton Family Y — 404 Danbury Road.

• Wilton Pizza — 202 Town Green.