Updated: Feb 9
By: Mark Rhodes,
With contribution by: Jose Ortiz-Gonzalez & Ed Lloyd.
Edited By: James John Davies
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Fearing a tough road ahead for charities, it was uncertain how well this years Toys For Tots operations would fair. The world was faced with uncertainty in a pandemic, yet this years Toys For Tots campaign proved to be a success. Members of Col. Phillip C. DeLong, Detachment 1267, and in cooperation with South Lake County Detachment 1120, of the Marine Corps League, meet the challenge as Marines do, through strong leadership and Esprit de’Corps of team work.
This past years efforts were lead by two outstanding members of Detachment 1267, Ed Lloyd and Jose Ortiz-Gonzalez. Ed, who wrangled the northern operations “Overall “Management Team” which included: Lee Radford (Warehouse Manager), Fred Coenen (Storage Manager & Assistant 2020 Coordinator), Gerry Cripps (Toy Room Manager & Head Elf / Toy Genius) , Joe Olimpio (Supply Officer), Bill Ward (Consultant), Tom Ciesla (Toy Runners Route Manager) & Greg Merimee (Events Manager), who without all their individual support in their roles, we would not have attained this year’s level of success.”(3) Jose M. Ortiz-Gonzalez, managed the southern operations, with the assistance of Robert Keith, Commandant, of Detachment 1120 and his dedicated team of volunteers.
Eds “End of Action Report” (EAR), included some mighty impressive facts and figures. Yet, one interesting number not included, were the average total man-hours volunteered. With 39 local area volunteers, comprised of both detachment and non detachment members, An estimated 12,000 averaged total volunteer man hours, were provided to make this endeavor a success. These 39 volunteers collected, sorted, organized and distributed 54,419 toys that went to 17,850 children, in 5,645 families.
The south county operations presented other challenges that were overcome through the leadership of Jose and Robert…
“This year was a difficult one for our Detachment. Due to the pandemic that shuttered our collection facility, retirement of experienced volunteers, and health concerns expressed by our members, we were unable to
coordinate the Toys for Tots campaign in our area. Fortunately, Jose Ortiz-Gonzalez, a former Marine and a member of the Fruitland Park Police Department, had already contacted the Leesburg coordinator for our district, volunteering to lead the campaign in South Lake County. His leadership was vital to supporting our local children…” “…Our volunteers included Rob and Jacqui Keith and their daughter Dorotea; Rufino and Lu Garcia; Collin and Joanne Cotterell; and Wally Hornbaker, who, along with Emily, has been instrumental in our Detachment’s past Toys for Tots campaigns. Rob Keith comments that working with Jose Ortiz-Gonzalez was a privilege and with his leadership, our The distribution location provided better parking and logistics than our previous sites. Area children received Christmas gifts in a difficult time. Many families in our community had suffered job losses and associated economic hardships. Rob is proud that the campaign came together as one of the best run yet and thanks Jose for his outstanding leadership.”(1)
Both northern and southern operations were instructed by the Toys For Tots Foundation to comply with the Federal, State and Counties Covid compliance as they executed the Toys For Tots campaign. This compliance required a series of adaptations to established / historical activities. Compliance also impacted the number of warehouse staffing volunteers, to comply with COVID / Toys For Tots Foundation requirements. This equated to developing alternative means to adjust the processing of Toy Request Applications, (for both Lake & Sumter Counties). In adjusting to the lack of physical spaces to collect toys and funds, the organizers employed the use of social media and press releases to complete the task at hand.
Of all the happy faces, the Toys For Tots teams generated, non of them would have been produced without the generosity of The Villages residents and surrounding communities corporate sponsors.
Major Local Contributors include the following: Phillips Auto Group – without Mr. Phillips generosity, this operation could have had a much different outcome, provided our “Toys For Tots Fruitland Park” main warehouse for over four months – Rent Free! – The Village Movers of Fruitland Park , who provided trailers and additional manpower for moving our toys when requested. – The Villages Corvette Club, – Bridgeport at Lake Miona Villages Community, – Blackston Financial Group of The Villages, – Holiday Marine of Leesburg, – Village of Santiago – Women’s Club, – ABC Liquor of Wildwood, Fruitland Park and Lady Lake, – Galaxy Home Solutions of Wildwood, – Sabra Schlagetter of Mt. Dora, – SECO Energy, – Mission BBQ of Lady Lake, – Southern Self Storage of Oxford, – Fruitland Park Police Department, – Cooper Memorial Library of Clermont, FL. – Bill Bryan Subaru of Leesburg, selected our “Marine Corps League Toys For Tots” campaign as their “Share The Love” corporate charity recipient. Also on this list is Barnes & Noble — Sumter Landing, who continued to support the Toys For Tots program, even though Marines couldn’t be posted outside their doors this year. All of the above united through uncertainty, too provided donations in multiple forms. – Waste Management of Wildwood, provided bulk refuse containers and services for the northern operations. – The City of Groveland – Provided our Groveland (South Lake County) warehouse for three months, Rent Free! Also The city of Groveland Police Department, kept the southern location secure, and assisted with traffic control. (2,3)
“The city of Groveland held their own Christmas toy drive which usually serves approximately fifty (50) families. With our assistance, they reported that they nearly tripled their program; serving approximately one hundred fifty (150) families. Toys For Tots provided The City of Groveland, the following for their efforts: Toys: 1,202 (including 12 bicycles and 3 scooters)” (2).
We also want to recognize the numerous restaurants that donated meals for our volunteers each and every day during the week of distribution. Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ, Texas Roadhouse, PDQ, Outback Steakhouse, Publix Deli (King’s Ridge location), Publix Deli (Citrus Tower location). Furthermore, Mission BBQ catered a luncheon on our behalf to the staff at the Cooper Memorial Library.
“It goes without saying that we received donations from hundreds of individuals, clubs, businesses, organizations etc. Far too many to list. Let’s not forget the Marine Corps League - Toys For Tots Golf Outing Team, that kicks off our fundraising season each year.
Without their individual abundance of generosity, our Mission to deliver Toys locally in Sumter / Lake County would not have exceeded our expectations this past year.”(2)
To the volunteers both within, Detachments 1267 & 1120, and from without, for stepping up in a time of questionable uncertainty and risk, a heart filled “Thank You” will never be enough to pay you for the kindness you have shown. Many a child's smile was produced at your willingness to put their needs, above your own.
Marine Corps League,
Col. Phillip C. DeLong.
(1) Marine Corps League, South Lake Detachment 1120, OO-RAH! vol. V. issue 1 Jan. 2021 online newsletter. Click Here for news letter
(2) Sergeant Jose M. Ortiz-Gonzalez (USMC) Toys for Tots Clermont Coordinator (South County), After Action Report.
(3) Ed Lloyd, Toys for Tots Fruitland Park Coordinator (North County), Summery, End of Action Report.
This past years Toys For Tots operation was a little different for the workers who volunteer annually. This year, the Marine Corps League, Detachment 1267 lost a dedicated member, Jimmy Kelly. Semper Fidelis Marine, you will be missed.