The Toys for Tots program in Wichita Falls, Texas, had been dormant for years, to the point where the district coordinator had written it off for dead.
But that’s changed now, thanks to American Legion Riders Chapter 169. The chapter took the reins of the program two years ago, and after what Chapter Director Craig Rause said was “mild success” in the first year, it followed up last year by raising enough funds and collecting enough toys to deliver more than 1,000 Christmas presents to local children who otherwise may not have received any.
“We were looking for a way, as the Riders, to get involved in the community,” said Rause, a member of Post 169. “I attended the state (Legion Riders) rally and was talking to a few guys, and one of the guys said, ‘Hey, what about Toys for Tots?’ The Toys for Tots program at his post is huge, and so he put me in touch with their district (Toys for Tots) rep.
“I called her, and she said, ‘I’d given up on Wichita County. No one has wanted to do anything out there for years. But if you want it, it’s yours. Have at it.’”
Rause said the chapter went into the program “not knowing what we were doing, kind of making it up as we went. We learned a lot the first year. And I think it’s going to be even better this year, as far as donations and families (assisted).”
The chapter kicked off its fundraising effort recently by conducting a 60-mile Toys for Tots Run that participants could take part in by either paying an entry fee or donating a new toy of comparable value. The ride ended at Red River Harley-Davidson, which hosted a cookout to benefit Chapter 169. The post-ride event also included a raffle and 50-50 drawing. Around 20 motorcycles took part in the ride.
Rause said one of the reasons Chapter 169 chose Toys for Tots was because it’s a recognized charity. “There’s a lot of people that need help at Christmastime,” he said. “And everyone understands Toys for Tots and what it is. They know it’s a legitimate product.”
Being able to make an impact on the lives of local families is the payoff for Chapter 169.
“We had two ladies show up (last year), and they said, ‘You have no idea what this means,’” Rause said. “In a span of six months, that family had lost their grandmother and father. They had nothing, and they were crying as we were giving them their bags. And I was like, ‘OK, there’s some extra stuff.’
“I always say that Toys for Tots is a lot of work. It’s a lot of work in the beginning to get everything set up and get the (donation) boxes out to all the locations. And then there’s a lot of work at the end collecting everything, sorting the toys, putting together the bags for the families. But last year really put it into perspective for me. For us to … have that kind of impact, that’s what it’s for right there. They left, and we were crying once they walked out of the building.”