Children First: Toys and Toys for Tots

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It might not have been Santa riding in on his sleigh today at Wesley House, but members of the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed at NAS Meridian, and volunteers who helped unload boxes filled with toys for children served by Wesley House.

It's all part of the Toys for Tots, headed by the Marine Corps Reserve which makes sure those in need will have something to open come Christmas Day. Since there is no Marine reserve unit locally, full-time active duty Marines lead the effort here.

"For us to be able to step forward as Marines, it's just wonderful," said GySgt. Richard Lawrence, who organized the toy drive.

"This is marvelous and it has been a joy working with all of them," said Wesley House executive director Nell Grissom.

The Toys for Tots campaign started in October. It has thrived with the community's assistance.

"Quite often, law enforcement does not have a chance to do things that feel good. It was a chance for our men and women to participate," said Maj. Ward Calhoun of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department, whose members helped man toy drops.

Nearly 7,000 toys were collected during this year's campaign, a goal that exceeded expectations.

"They must feel very good to know that they are doing this. What a way to celebrate Christ's birthday," said Grissom, as she choked back tears.

The giving did not stop there. Students from St. Patrick Catholic School did their part in collecting over 160 toys for the program.

"One of the missions of the school is to do service for others," said Denise Huntley.

"It just had a really good feeling, the kids smiling and giving up toys," said Dawlat Velastegui of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Wesley House will distribute the toys to families who need some help this Christmas.