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Annual toy distribution helps Eglin families with Christmas

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EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Eglin’s annual Toy Drive distribution was held Dec. 4-5 for families who may need assistance finishing off the Christmas list this year.

The program provides toys and gifts for families of Airmen E-6 and below. The first day of the program was by invitation only, while the second day was open to all Airmen of qualifying rank. Nearly 250 families benefitted from the program this year.

Donations primarily came from Toys for Tots of Fort Walton Beach. Many individuals and military units also donated to the program, dropping off toys or cash contributions.  The first sergeants’ “Operation Care” fund also helps the program purchase items for any demographic needing a larger selection of toys.

The annual event has a short, but very busy timeline. Prior to distribution, the First Sergeant Council begins to identify families that would benefit. After that point, it is a continuous push until event day.

“We start the planning a couple weeks before. We have to advertise, get the message out, and get tickets out. We have to set up the facility and get the shopping carts. Manpower starts about a week before the event,” said Master Sgt Justin Klein, 96th Surgical Operations Squadron first sergeant.

Parents of all backgrounds and family structure were nominated to benefit from the program in hopes of providing a better holiday for their children. Most ticket holders were approached by their supervisors who identified the family as eligible for pre-distribution.

“My supervisor came to me and said this program was available. So I called my first sergeant and they told me to come in today,” said Senior Airman Andrew Heickley, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

He and his wife, Valerie estimated they would spend nearly $600 this Christmas for their two children. As a third-year service member, Heickley was hoping to offset the financial pinch of Christmas with a few toys and baby items from the distribution.

Toy drives often find beneficiaries and donors trading roles. Those who received toys in years past, often give back when they are able, while a changing family situation may find a previous donor needing assistance for a season.

“I’ve known about the program from other people who have used it. They approached me this year to see if I would benefit from a pre-distribution ticket,” said Staff Sgt. Nisha Elizalde, 96th Civil Engineer Squadron.

As a single parent of a three year old, this is Elizalde’s first year receiving toys. She has been a donor in the past.

“Right now, I donate what I can, and it’s a great program so I will continue to donate in the future,” she said.

As a charity that assists families in providing happy memories during a season that can be very financially and emotionally stressful, individuals on both sides recognize how important it is to help in any way possible.

“There are less fortunate people out there,” said Master Sgt Melissa Alford, 366th Training Squadron Detachment 3 first sergeant. “I know I used to be one of them. I was a young Airman, who was a single parent, who needed help as well. I had a hard time getting presents for my own child. Being able to help out others and give back is a very rewarding feeling.”

Article by: Sara Francis, Team Eglin Public Affairs

Photo: A family member helps his daughter push around her new tricycle she selected at the annual holiday toy distribution at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 4. Approximately 2,000 toys were collected by donations made throughout the year. Toys, bikes, books, games, crafts, sports equipment and stuffed animals were given to active-military families in need of assistance during the holidays. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

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