Dec 23, 2003 – Normally, when someone says "Christmas is coming," it evokes images of fir trees and tinsel, or Chris Cringle and wrapping paper, or perhaps reminds the listener of an ubiquitous carol that stars a fat goose and an old man's hat. However, for Mary Mingus, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix, Christmas is all about the Marines — at least in part.
The Marines? The first to fight, last to leave, Devil Dog Marines? Those Marines? Yes. But more about that in a moment.
First, the Women's Coalition of St. Croix.
According to Mingus, for 22 years the Women's Coalition has provided resources and, when needed, a place of refuge for Crucian victims of domestic abuse, mainly women and children.
In a territory where more than a dozen women have died at the hands of their husbands or partners since 1994 and countless children have found themselves abused by parents and caretakers, the coalition provides an invaluable, and in some cases, life-saving service.
In addition to delivering immediate emotional and financial services, Mingus said the organization also has "safe houses" for its clients who need relief from homes that have become unsafe. Additionally, the coalition makes sure its clients receive proper legal assistance, should they need it.
With the recent purchase of a building on St. Croix, the coalition's growing list of services will soon include an after-school center with recreational facilities and tutoring services.
So what happened to the Leathernecks? And why does Mingus think of Marines whenever anybody brings up Christmas?
As it turns out, the men and women of the St. Croix Marine Corps Association have been doing a little of the "grunt work" for Santa these past holiday seasons. And this year, as in years past, according to the association's executive director, Carl Gotts, one of the principal beneficiaries of the local Marine action is the Women's Coalition.
As St. Croix's representatives for the Marines, Gotts and his buddies in the association have been responsible for operating St. Croix's Toys For Tots program over the past nine years.
According to the Toys For Tots Web site, the toy drive has been happening every yuletide since 1947. Its mission, plain and simple: provide brand new toys for children who may not otherwise have any presents to open on Christmas morning.
The project, which began in southern California as a local Marine Corps reservists' effort to give toys to less fortunate children, quickly grew into a national passion with its own theme song and a host of A-list celebrities working to promote it. Last year alone, according to the Toys For Tots site, the outfit gathered and distributed more than seven million toys.
On St. Croix the Marine Corps reservists hold a golf tournament every fall to raise money for the purchase of the toys. This year the group raised close $7,000, drawing the support of more than 100 local businesses.
"This year we actually had several companies contact us to support the tournament," Gotts said, noting that the tournament now has a number of corporate-level sponsors who help to defray expenses so that the bulk of the money raised can go to the kids.
"This year the Marine association helped us help hundreds of children," Mingus said. "We're having a Christmas party and giving out presents, and were it not for this organization and the work they do, many of the people we're helping this Christmas would have had nothing," she said.
And the Women's Coalition is just one of a handful of organizations who benefit from the Marine activity on St. Croix. CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate), an organization that trains people to help advocate for minors in domestic abuse cases, and the St. Croix Shriners Club, are just two other groups that benefit every year from the Marine effort.
Gotts and the Marine association have come to understand that poverty, neglect and abuse are year-round phenomena, and sometimes the best toy to warm the heart of a child in need, is not a toy at all. "Last year there was a young woman who needed a pair of shoes to wear to her high school graduation ceremony," Gotts said, "And we were able to make sure she had them."
Anyone interested in knowing how they can help the St. Croix Marine Corps Association next year can contact Mr. Gotts at 719-4065.
Until then, as the Marines always say, Semper Fidelis, or in English, faithful always.
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