Bill Hendricks and Toys for Tots

“….to bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children”.
– Colonel Bill Hendricks USMCR

The Victor Crew wondered about how Toys for Tots was started. Here is what we found out:

In the fall of 1947, Diane Hendricks handcrafted a Raggedy Ann doll and asked her husband, USMCR Major Bill Hendricks, to deliver the doll to an organization that would give it to a needy child for Christmas. Major Bill inquired and searched for an organization. In the end he determined that there was no such agency. Mrs. Hendricks told him that he should start one. He did start one that year in Los Angeles, California with his local US Marine Corps Reserve unit. He called it Toys for Tots. The Marines collected 5,000 toys that first Christmas with Diane’s handmade doll as the first toy donated.

Bill Hendricks’ 1947 pilot program was so successful that the United States Marine Corps adopted his local Toys for Tots project and expanded it into a nationwide community action project called the US Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program. Marines at each Reserve Center throughout the nation collected and distributed toys for needy children in the communities surrounding the center. Bill Hendricks’ initial objective remains the hallmark of the program today: “to bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children”.

Bill Hendricks, a Marine Reservist on weekends, had a civilian job as the Director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers Studios. His job enabled him to convince a wide array of celebrities to support Toys for Tots. In 1948, Walt Disney designed the Toys for Tots logo, which is still used today. Walt Disney also designed the first Toys for Tots poster used to promote the nationwide program. The Christmas posters have become an annual tradition of the program. Through the years the posters have featured such notable characters as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Dennis the Menace, Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner. Members of the Association of Handicapped Artists, Marine Corps Reserve artists and well-known professional artists, such as Ted Drake and Bob Timberlake, have designed the annual Toys for Tots posters.

In 1949, major celebrities began to support the Toys for Tots Program. Spokespersons have included John Wayne, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Andy Griffith, Clint Eastwood, Johnny Carson, Ann Margaret and John Glenn. There is a long list of celebrities who have given their time and talent to promoting Toys for Tots. In 1956, Oscar winning songwriters Sammy Fain and Paul Webster composed the Toys for Tots theme, which was recorded by Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Vic Damone.

From 1947 through 1979, Marines collected and distributed new and used toys. During Reserve drill weekends in October, November and December the Marines refurbished the used toys. That changed in 1980 for three reasons. First, the Secretary of Defense assigned the USMC Reserves a greater role in America’s defense. Reservists had to dedicate every drill weekend to honing combat skills. No time was left for fixing toys. Second, the public was becoming aware of the health and safety aspects of used toys. And third, distributing “hand me down” toys did not send the message Marines wanted to send to needy children. Their goal was to deliver a message of hope that would build self-esteem and, in the end, build responsible, patriotic citizens. They believed a shiny new toy was the best way to accomplish that goal.

In the late 1980’s, the Marine Corps determined that a non-profit charity was needed for the Toys for Tots Program. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation became an operational organization in September 1991. The Foundation was set up to satisfy five identified needs:

  1. Supply toys to supplement the collections of local units
  2. Arrange and pay for the creation, publication, manufacture and promotion of support materials
  3. Make it possible for individuals and corporations to take a charitable deduction on their tax returns
  4. Enter into contracts with corporations to conduct promotions, producing royalties for Toys for Tots
  5. Ensure that Toys for Tots operates in compliance with IRS regulations

Over the 68 years of the Toys for Tots Program, Marines have distributed more than 494 million toys to more than 230 million needy children. Over the 24 years of the Toys for Tots Foundation, it has supplemented local toy collections with more than 81.3 million toys. The Toys for Tots charitable endeavor has made the US Marines the unchallenged leader in looking after less fortunate children at Christmas. And it all started with one handmade doll.