Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Toys for Tots coordinator Greg St. Hilaire poses with a stack of toys in his warehouse. St. Hilaire urges the community to sign up for the Toys for Tots program so everyone can have a merry Christmas. Sign-ups are going on at the Victory Fellowship Theater/The Way AZ at 555 Entertainment Ave., throughout the month of November.
By Jon Johnson
Coming back for his 18th year at the helm, Greg St. Hilaire has filled his warehouse as the official coordinator for the Toys for Tots charity in Graham County and is eager to give the toys away this Christmas in the 76th anniversary of the program. However, St. Hilaire needs the assistance of all the little elves everywhere to let him know who to prepare gifts for.
To do this, merely sign up for your child or children to receive toys from the program at the Victory Fellowship Theater/The Way AZ at 555 Entertainment Ave., throughout the month of November. Sign up during working hours of 1 – 7 p.m. any day of the week at the coffee shop. Those living in Greenlee County are welcome to sign up as well but you must come to Safford to do so. The toys are set to be distributed from the signup location on Dec. 17.
The only required documentation to sign up a child is a photo identification. For more information call Greg at (928) 792-3100 or email Toys4totsgraham@gmail.com.
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 has given more than 18,000 gifts to more than 6,000 children in Graham County for the past three years, 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. St. Hilaire 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.
St. Hilaire 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, St. Hilaire’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.
Locally, St. Hilaire 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 St. Hilaire shops for toys year-round to get the best bang for the 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. So, drop a new, unwrapped tow in a donation box or drop a buck in a donation jar and know with confidence that it is going where intended.
After 18 years, Greg advises this will probably be his last as coordinator, and others who have helped him this year including Amy Congdon and Candace Tippey.
“They have already helped me so much,” St. Hilaire said. “They put out all my jars and boxes for me – that saved me a lot of time. And they love it.”
St. Hilaire said he gets new people to help and receive gifts every year and it all works thanks to the generosity of those in the Gila Valley and elsewhere.
“I just want to thank the community,” St. Hilaire said. “We couldn’t do this without such a giving community. People just step up. I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t have to go hunting for people to help or hunt for people to give – they find me. I haven’t had to go out and pound the streets for a few years now.”
St. Hilaire will also be having a large yard sale this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3, and 4, at 2417 E. U.S. Highway 70 from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. with lots of collectibles, including a DVD set of the entire Twilight Zone TV series. So, be sure to check it out and score some great stuff.