7 Little-Known Facts about Toys for Tots

Each year, the Marine Corps Reserve collects hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of donations for its annual Toys for Tots drive.

Marines in dress blues collect the toys and other donations, which are delivered to children in their communities around the holiday season. In 2014 and 2015, Toys for Tots generated more than $550 million in donations.

Toys for Tots is a top-rated charity, according to its website, with 97 percent of donations going toward its mission. Here are seven facts you might not know about Toys for Tots.

A military officer started it all. In 1947, Maj. Bill Hendricks, USMCR, along with a group of fellow Marine Corps reservists, collected 5,000 toys to give to underprivileged children in Los Angeles. Hendricks’ wife, Diane, had the idea to start Toys for Tots after learning no programs in their area helped children in need around the holidays, according to a Marine Corps news release.

By the following year, Marine Corps Reserve units across the country began collecting toys for children in their communities.

Walt Disney designed the famous logo. The famous train logo on every Toys for Tots collection box was designed by Walt Disney in 1948. Over the years, Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck have been featured on Toys for Tots posters.

Disney continues to be a major sponsor for Toys for Tots, along with Toys R Us and Macy’s.

There’s a theme song. In 1956, Oscar-winning songwriters Sammy Fain and Paul Webster composed a Toys for Tots theme song. Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, and Vic Damone all later recorded the song.

The first national TV spot was on Wheel of Fortune. The year 1990 was big for the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program. The evening TV gameshow Wheel of Fortune and Pizza Hut conducted a three-week Toys for Tots promotion that raised close to $3 million.

That figure set several milestones that are recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, according to the Toys for Tots site, for participation and donation calls made in response to a promotion.

It’s big with some celebs. Toys for Tots has had several high-profile sponsors over the years, including celebrities like Bob Hope and Kenny Rogers along with public figures like President Ronald Reagan and first lady Michelle Obama.

In recent years, former professional basketball star Shaquille O’Neal has teamed with Toys R Us to raise awareness for Toys for Tots. In a promotional video, O’Neal — who dresses up as “Shaq-A-Claus” — said he knows what toys children will like each year because he himself is “a big kid.”

The toys sometimes go overseas. While Toys for Tots is designed to help children in the U.S., there have been a few times that some of the toys were donated to kids overseas.

The first time was in 1959, when a typhoon devastated the city of Nagoya, Japan. Toys also were sent to Panama twice: once in 1988 after the U.S. invaded the country and then again in 1989 following a hurricane.

Toys for Tots also has sent donations to children in the U.S. following natural disasters in their cities.

It’s an official mission. In 1995, then-Defense Secretary William Perry approved Toys for Tots as an official activity of the Marine Corps — and as an official mission of the Marine Corps Reserve.