About 350 families showed up Dec. 16 for Toys for Tots distribution. Local fire and police departments, school officials, community members and others helped military members collect and distribute toys.

Archived Story

Toys distribution spreads smiles

Published 9:18pm Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. The idea came from Bill’s wife, Diane, in the fall of 1947.
Today, Toys for Tots still exists even in Cass County and Van Buren County. Marine Corps Reserve Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Lebeda has been putting a smile on children’s faces for 17 years.
With the support of local organizations, fire departments and schools, Toys for Tots has been a success. With Toys for Tots’ central distribution center in Cassopolis, many of the centralized schools have been doing extra to add to any donations already given.
With the idea of Cassopolis Schools selling candy canes for 25 cents, Dowagiac and Marcellus Schools have brought on the same program. Last year, Cassopolis Schools made $250. Effective Dec. 16, the candy cane were over, so Lebeda could shop for the children.
The Cass County Toys for Tots put a lot of smiles on families’ faces Dec. 16. There were 142 previous applications taken. By early afternoon, 350 families were coming through the line. From infants to 14-year-olds, the room was filled with toys categorized by age group and gender.
Recent Cassopolis High School graduate and volunteer fireman Oliver Fiala said this is the first time he has volunteered his time for Toys for Tots and he really enjoys it.
John Vester said his reasoning for volunteering is because he enjoys giving back to the community and seeing the smiles on people’s faces.
Cass County Deputy Jason Pompey, who volunteers for Penn Township Fire Department, among several other organizations, said he enjoys watching the community pull together. Pompey explained how local business Hibshman Screw, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department and a community member all volunteered the use of their vehicles so they could travel to Battle Creek, Mich., and pick up toys to bring back for distribution day. After arriving back at the site, several volunteers worked together and arranged toys into their proper places, working long hours.
All volunteers have put in two full days of long hours with the volunteers consisting of the Army, Army National Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, Cass County Sherriff’s Department, Cassopolis Village Police Department and fire departments from Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Penn Township
Donations are accepted for next year’s Toys for Tots.

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