Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Toys for Tots Graham County Coordinator Greg St. Hilaire presents a doll to Dahlia Johnson, 3, of Pima, at his warehouse holding facility. Sign-ups for children to receive gifts from Toys for Tots will be on two Saturdays in October and two Saturdays in November.
By Jon Johnson
GRAHAM COUNTY – He’s back!
After taking last year off, Greg St. Hilaire is back as the coordinator for the Toys for Tots charity in Graham County for his 13th year.
Those in Graham County who wish to sign up children to receive toys can do so at the Victory Fellowship Church at 555 Entertainment Ave., on one of four available Saturdays: Saturday, Oct. 3, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 17, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 7, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., or Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
The required documentation to sign up a child include a photo identification for the parent or guardian, DES determination letter, and proof of residency, or proof of guardianship, birth certificates of the children and social security cards for the children. The age cutoff to receive presents is 16. For more information call (928) 235-0373 or visit Toys4totsgraham@gmail.com.
St. Hilaire and his wife, Carol St. Hilaire, work tirelessly throughout the year to make the Christmas season special to the children of Graham and Greenlee counties.
Greg, who once was a recipient himself when his childhood home in Minneapolis, Minn. burned to the ground three weeks before Christmas in 1965, has always held the program in special high regard. Greg reminisced as to the positive lasting impression he got when the local Toys for Tots coordinator delivered a pickup load of toys for him and his nine siblings. That event lit another fire, one that burns deep in Greg’s heart and can only be quenched by revisiting the blessing he received upon others.
“This is my favorite time of year, and it’s the best job in the whole world,” Greg said.
The Toys for Tots program began in 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks’ wife, Diane, crafted a homemade Raggedy Ann-type doll and asked her husband to donate it to a worthy organization that would see it was presented to a needy child for Christmas. After not being able to locate such an agency, Diane suggested Bill start his own. That year, Hendricks and his Marine Reserve Unit collected and distributed roughly 5,000 toys to needy children in Los Angeles, and the Toys for Tots program was created. It has grown since then, and the program now gave away more than 18 million toys to more than 7 million children last year alone. Additionally, when the pandemic hit, the program distributed more than 2 million toys and books to children in need who were most affected by the virus.
The Toys for Tots program gave away about 18,000 gifts to roughly 6,000 children in Graham County last year, with each child receiving at least three gifts. The gifts are tailored to each child from a questionnaire parents or guardians fill out when they sign up a child. Greg said he believes he receives divine guidance in heading the program, as he is constantly hearing from parents that the toys he gives their children are just what they were hoping for.
Greg became the local coordinator in 2007 and has improved the program each year, even through tough economic times. In 2010, he was recognized by the Toys for Tots Foundation as the Region IV Civilian Coordinator of the Year.
With assistance from the local Pepsi plant and the use of a storage facility in Solomon, Greg’s facility has become a depot where he can receive large shipments of toys from the national organization and parcel out the pallets of toys to other coordinators throughout Arizona and New Mexico.
The Toys for Tots program is a top-rated charity with roughly 97 percent of monetary donations being used to provide toys, books, and other gifts to children with only about 3 percent used for administrative and fundraising costs. This year, there are 811 campaigns consisting of 147 Marine Forces Reserve units and 664 Local Community Organizations.
Locally, Greg said 100 percent of all donations are used to provide toys to the children as he even pays for his own gas to travel around the different counties gathering and distributing toy and money collection boxes and jars. While the St. Hilaires shop for toys year-round to get the best bang for their buck, numerous businesses help out by allowing the roughly 100 toy drop-off boxes and 100 donation jars to be placed in their shops throughout Graham and Greenlee counties.