By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2013 – Taking on the task of sorting hundreds of holiday toy and gift donations from White House staff, First Lady Michelle Obama lent a hand to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots campaign here yesterday.
Obama greeted 10 to 15 local military families accompanied by their children, ages 6 to 11 years old, as they all pitched in at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to help less-fortunate children receive holiday gifts. Each family brought a gift and helped Obama sort them by age and gender into large boxes.
“It is always an honor and a privilege for me to play this small role to do whatever I can to lift up this effort at the very end of the drive to make sure we get our numbers and that folks are aware,” Obama said of the annual toy drive.
The defense secretary in 1995 approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the Marine Corps and its reservists, according to the Toys for Tots website.
Obama thanked the Marines, families, volunteers and donors who contributed gifts, time and effort to the campaign. She said that with a few days remaining, toys and gifts are still needed for teenagers and children up to age 2.
She also recognized five service members in the military family audience who recently returned home from deployment.
“We're just so glad you could be home in time for the holidays,” Obama said. “Thank you all so much; we're really proud.”
The first lady told the audience that they contribute to the “thousands of hours” that go into the drive each year.
“You all spend hours manning those donation boxes in the freezing cold, you spend hundreds of hours sorting toys by age so it makes it easier to get to the kids that need them,” she said. “It is a herculean task, and you all do it with grace and poise and efficiency.”
Obama said it’s because of military family dedication to the campaign that Toys for Tots has grown from 5,000 donations in its first year, 1947, to nearly 16.8 million toys last year.
The success, dedication to the mission and commitment to service are a reflection of the spirit of military families, the first lady said.
“What most people have to understand is these men and women and their spouses [volunteer] in the face of the fifth or sixth deployment their family is experiencing,” Obama said.
“Most people don’t understand that you do all of this service on top of all of the challenges that you face as service members and as military families,” she added.
“That’s the example I think the rest of the country needs to see -- that even in the midst of your challenges, you find a way to give back to those less fortunate,” Obama said.
The first lady expressed her pride in the nation’s military and their families.
“That’s what makes me want to step up and do whatever I can to support this effort and to support you all … who do so much sacrificing,” the first lady said.
“I really don’t know how you all do it. I am amazed; I'm fascinated. But I am grateful that you are who you are, and that you make those sacrifices,” she said.