Sept. 24, 2003 – For the eighth year running, the men and women of the St. Croix Marine Corps Association are fighting the good fight at home in the territory as they gear up for the "Toys for Tots" charity golf tournament, an event they organize each fall in support of the U.S. Marine Corps Reservists' national holiday toy drive of the same name.
The well-known "Toys for Tots" campaign began as a request from a wife to her husband 56 years ago in Los Angeles. Marine Corps Reservist Bill Hendricks was asked by his wife, Diane, to find a local charity that would see to it that a Raggedy Ann doll she had crafted would make its way into the hands of child in need that Christmas.
When Hendricks returned home, Raggedy Ann doll still in hand, unable to locate a single charity in Los Angeles to handle this request, Diane suggested they start one immediately.
And "Toys for Tots" was born.
The weeks leading up to Christmas 1947 saw Bill Hendricks and the first small band of volunteer Marine Corps reservists hunkering down to locate, repair and refurbish the 5,000 gifts they would eventually distribute to the poor children of Los Angeles that year.
Fortuitously, Hendricks' day job at the time happened to be as director of public relations for Warner Brothers Studios. So the cause managed to attract a fair amount of public attention in a hurry.
That first "Toys for Tots" campaign was so successful that in 1948 the Marine Corps adopted "Toys for Tots" as its own special project, turning Diane Hendricks' philanthropic impulse into a coordinated nationwide effort to provide toys to poor children in every community where a Marine reservist or veteran was willing to lend a hand .
With his contacts in the movie business, Bill Hendricks had celebrities volunteering their time and lending their fame to the cause each holiday season. Walt Disney sketched the enduring logo. Nat "King" Cole, Peggy Lee and Vic Damone recorded the theme song. Bob Hope got the celebrity golf tournament going. But then, as ever, it was volunteer Marine reservists and veterans who did the grunt work each fall so that the presents would be ready in time for St. Nick.
St. Croix resident Carl Gotts, a Marine veteran and executive director of the St. Croix Marine Corps Association, says that of the many charity golf tournaments held on island each year, the "Toys for Tots" event is the most fun for everybody who gets involved.
"It's just about having a good time and raising money so that some of the island's less fortunate children can know what it's like to open a new present at Christmastime," Gotts said. "Plus, at 85 bucks to get in, it's one of the less-expensive charity golf events, and that makes all the golfers a little more relaxed."
The tournament format is a four-player scramble with a shotgun start. With each team able to choose the best ball after every stroke, as Gotts put it, "even a team of duffers has a shot at winning this thing! It makes it exciting."
Gotts, a key organizer since before tee-off in the first tournament, points out, however, that the real work is done by the organizations they are raising money for. "The work they do year round, that's the real story," he said.
The Marine Corps Association members volunteer their time to organize the golf tournament and, with the sponsorship of local businesses and the support of generous individuals, they raise money which is administered by the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development. The foundation makes sure the money raised gets to a handful of local charitable agencies, and that it is used to purchase toys for children reached through the work of these agencies at the holidays.
Among the agencies listed in a release from the Marine association are the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, which provides shelter and other services to victims of domestic violence and their children; CASA (for Court Appointed Special Advocates), which trains volunteers to become advocates for children in domestic abuse and neglect cases; and Bethlehem House, which serves homeless individuals and families.
However, Gotts emphasizes, "We couldn't do any of this without the support of St. Croix's businesses. We couldn't be happier with all they've done to make this event successful."
Businesses support the tournament in a number of ways. Some offer goods and services as raffle prizes; others might offer a prize to the player who drives the farthest or lands the ball closest to the pin. Supporters can also pledge a fixed amount to put their name on a hole, a tee or a green. The premium sponsor for this year's tournament is Alliance Management Partners, LLC.
It was decided some years after the campaign was begun that only new, still-in-the-package gifts should be given, in recognition of the dignity of a charitable organization and the children it serves.
As the Marine Corps Reservists organization put it: "Distributing 'hand me down' toys does not send the message Marines want to send to needy children. The goal is to deliver a message of hope which will build self-esteem and, in turn, motivate needy children to grow into responsible, productive, patriotic citizens and community leaders. A shiny new toy is the best means of accomplishing this goal."
Nationally, the foundation hands out more that seven million toys. In past years the St. Croix tournament has raised as much as $6,000, all of which goes to the charities, since the association relies entirely on volunteerism.
This year's tournament is set for Oct. 26 at Carambola Golf Course, starting at 8:30 a.m.
Golfers who want to sign up for a team or organize their own can register by calling the Carambola pro shop at 778-5638. The $85 fee covers a round of golf, buffet lunch, tournament shirt and goodie-bag. Plus, of course, a chance at the prizes offered teams and individual golfers for their prowess out on the links.
Those wanting information about business sponsorship opportunities are asked to call Gotts at 719-4065.
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