TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — When veteran and Rio Vista resident Larry Shaw called Tech. Sgt. Paul Speer, saying he wanted to donate the Matchbox toy cars he had to Toys for Tots, Speer expected he would get a couple hundred of the small toy vehicles at most.
When Shaw showed up with his collection of more than 12,000 of the small cars, some collectors’ items, Speer respectfully asked the veteran if this is what he really wanted to do.
“He said, ‘Well, I enjoyed them and I want the kids to have them’,” Speer said.
Speer is part of a cadre of Travis Air Force Base airmen who spent the past few weeks collecting barrels of toys from throughout Solano County, then sorting them to ensure they are age and gender appropriate before sending them off to needy families and community groups.
Toys for Tots has been run by the Marine Corps since 1947, when Marine Maj. Bill Hendricks started the program in Los Angeles, collecting 5,000 toys – the first being a handmade doll.
Since Solano County does not have any sizable Marine unit to do the collecting, sorting and distribution, the 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 14, stepped into the breach 35 years ago to run the program here, according to Speer.
The detachment starts every year in August, doing radio interviews to promote Toys for Tots and contacting businesses to see if they will put out barrels into which employees and customers can put donated toys. This year, they put 180 barrels at 110 locations throughout the county.
Speers particularly thanked Sutter Solano Medical Center, the Cordelia Fire Protection District, the Valero Refinery, The American Legion, Vaca Valley Auto Parts and the local ABATE of California motorcycle chapter.
“We’d be here all day if I mentioned all of them,” Speer said of the wide local support for Toys for Tots.
The group started collecting and sorting an estimated 85,000 toys this week, with filling individual family orders the highest priority and then orders from local nonprofits such as Mission Solano, The Salvation Army, local hospitals and churches.
“Everything that is collected in Solano County stays in Solano County,” Speer said.
Speers has been working with Toys for Tots for four years and said he is overwhelmed by the support from the community. As for all of the time he puts into it: “It makes it all worth it when someone is truly grateful.”
Airman Basic Gabriel Williams is one of the volunteers from the Mission Ready Airmen school who helps sort the toys. He said he loves doing this because he loves helping others out.
Fellow Airman Basic Jefferson Anthony said it not only helps fill the time while waiting for an assignment, but more importantly, it gives a deserving child a better Christmas than they would have otherwise.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.