City of Residence: Perry
Occupation: Georgia State Patrol Trooper
Q: How was this year’s Toys for Tots drive?
A: Good. Very good. There’s been great participation all across the area I’ve been coordinating.
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Q: This was your first year in a Toys for Tots liaison role. Any surprises?
A: Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought I’d have to contact groups and business to try to get support, but it was the opposite. There was a lot of excitement for Toys for Tots right off the bat, and I had people calling me to find out how they could get involved, how they could get boxes to collect toys. There were literally hundreds of boxes out there.
Q: What are the numbers this year? How many kids got toys?
A: In Houston and Peach counties, over 700 families got toys. Some families had more kids and got more toys and some got fewer.
Q: Toys for Tots is a U.S. Marine Corps/Marine Corps Reserve program. How did the Georgia State Patrol get involved?
A: It was our commander here at Post 15 in Perry, (GSP) Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Zion, who got it going. In 2008 she was working out of Milledgeville and was looking for a way the post there could give back to the community. After she started it there, it just exploded across the state.
Q: So it’s a good fit for the state patrol?
A: It has been. Unfortunately, some people just know us as ticket writers, so Toys for Tots lets us show we’re the good guys. Plus, working with Toys for Tots and all the volunteers and kids helps melt away some of the cynicism we can get dealing with all the bad stuff. It brings out a lot of good hearts in people all around.
Q: It’s a very successful and heartwarming program.
A: In the state I came from, you hardly ever hear of Toys for Tots. Here it seems like everyone knows it.
Q: Where are you from?
A: Maine. I guess since the state patrol is all over the state, our taking it on has helped it spread. People trust us and know that we’ll get the toys where they’re supposed to be. The fact toys donated here are given away locally helps, too.
Q: How is that arranged?
A: Marines and troopers work together to get collection boxes out and to pick them up. The toys are stored in a warehouse and we prepare them to be picked up by families. The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) arranges where the toys go -- what families are involved.
Q: Who are some of the others involved?
A: (Post commander) Zion still heads up Toys for Tots for us across the state. Locally, Marine Staff Sgt. Josh Colantonio at Robins Air Force Base does a great job, and we work closely with Wendy Chadwell and Babara Pernett of DFCS. But no matter who’s doing what, it’s all about helping people.
Q: It being your first year directly involved, how did it make you feel?
A: Well, it always feels good to be able to help even one or two people, but to see you’re involved in making so many kids’ and families’ Christmas a little brighter and seeing the joy it brings -- wow, it’s kind of mind-boggling. But the real credit goes to all the people, church groups, area governments, stores, businesses and organizations that donated toys and helped make it all possible. And everything is volunteer. Nobody gets paid for it.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.