There is no “I” in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, according to Jerry Crutcher, commandant of the Marine Corps League in Longview.
“It’s a lot of we, there is no I,” he said. The Marine Corps League in Longview operates the Toys for Tots program in Gregg, Upshur and Harrison counties and Kilgore. “We work as a group. We make our decisions together.”
In October, boxes are set out around the community for people to place toys in so the Marine Corps League in Longview can begin collecting toys for needy children for Christmas. The group helps between 500 to 1,000 families each year, while the national program helps more than 10 million.
Crutcher is a pilot who began his career with the Marines in 1965, serving for five years and then joining the Reserves for eight more years. He has been working with Toys for Tots locally for 13 years and began leading the effort eight years ago.
Toys for Tots started in 1947, when Diane Hendricks, the wife of Marine Corps Reserve Major Bill Hendricks, made a few dolls and asked her husband to deliver them to an agency that would give them to children in need. When he told his wife he couldn’t find such an organization, she told him to start one. That year, Hendricks and his Marines collected and districted 5,000 toys, according to the organization’s website.
“A little homemade doll is how this all started,” Crutcher said. “It’s a good program. It’s like anything else. It’s just as good as you make it.”
The main reason Crutcher, a Kilgore native, got involved with the program in Lafayette, Louisiana, before moving to Longview was the ability to make children happy with a gift.
“It’s just great to put a smile on their face at Christmastime,” he said. “We’ve delivered toys on Christmas day and we have delivered toys when a family’s house burned down. When we have the opportunity to see a smile on their face it all works out.”
One group that cannot go without praises for making the program possible each year are the wives of the Marines who collect the toys, including his wife, Laverne, Crutcher said. Without them the program would not be a success.
“My wife is my right-hand person as far as Toys for Tots goes,” he said. “All we men do is go pick up all the toys, and then we come in and say, ‘Yes ma’am,’ and they tell us what to do.”
Pat Watson, another Marine wife, helps Laverne Crutcher organize the toys by which family they belong to. Toys are not wrapped when they are delivered but are separated by child within each family. The toy drive also assists organizations such as Special Health Resources and area women’s shelters.
Toys for Tots does not collect computers or bicycles because those items are expensive and have been known to be sold for profit by parents. Families who follow the program’s rules are rewarded throughout the process and even have Marines show up on Christmas day sometimes with the special deliveries.
Crutcher jokes about one reason Toys for Tots has been such a success over the years, particularly with the wives who put their time and effort into making sure children in need get the toys they want for Christmas.
“It is enjoyable anytime you get to deal with Marines in dress blues — you impress the wives anyways,” Crutcher said.