Ravenna – Some people started preparing for the Christmas holidays as early as Halloween. Others got a start on their shopping by Thanksgiving or Black Friday. But even these early birds were put to shame by a group of young kids known as the Chesty Pullers Young Marines. Back on October 1, they started collecting 4,000 toys for 360 local families, so 900 Portage County kids could experience a Merry Christmas through Toys for Tots. Seventy-five local businesses and nearly 50 Young Marines, staff and parents did their part to make this happen.During the week of December 17, volunteers brought donations of new toys to Ravenna VFW Post 1055, where they were sorted. Then they spent two nights assembling the appropriate combination of toys based on submitted requests. Just days before Christmas, the Young Marines helped to deliver the gifts to recipients’ vehicles. In addition to the toys, 10-15 stocking stuffers were provided for each child (including pencils, crayons, small toy animals, etc.).

Particular toys were matched to individual children through submissions made on the Toys For Tots national website, which notes the children’s ages and genders, as well as any special requests. Many local support organizations directed their clients to register on the site.

“We do the best to match the requests to the toy donations we have on hand,” says Chesty Pullers staffer Jamie Hilverding. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t honor every specific request, but we tried. As we were nearing the completion of filling the requests Friday night, we had one request that specifically indicated the child loved Sponge Bob Squarepants. Several of the Young Marines had a short but fun scavenger hunt through the remaining toys until they found some Sponge Bob toys. I hope we made at least one child’s day special.”

Hilverding went on to say, “This is the first year for the unit to be involved, after a several-year hiatus. We are really excited about getting back into this and supporting the Marine Corps League in their efforts.”

Ron Pownall, Portage County Toys for Tots Coordinator and Unit Commander of the Chesty Puller Young Marines commented, “I am glad that the Portage County Toys for Tots is back in the hands of the Chesty Puller Young Marines and we expect to make next year a bigger success now that we have a good base of businesses that helped us make it through the year. I would also like to thank the staff, parents and Young Marines for a job well done.”

The Young Marines is a youth education and service program for boys and girls, ages 8 through completion of high school. The Young Marines promotes the mental, moral, and physical development of its members. The program focuses on character building and leadership, and promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. The Young Marines is the focal point for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Youth Drug Demand Reduction efforts.