Bay Area Operation Toy Drop connects military families, children and community

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – A brisk morning chill greeted the over 100 volunteers as they set up for the first-ever Bay Area Operation Toy Drop on Moffett Federal Air Field. The warm sun soon poked through the clouds and it was clear that this day would bring something special, as the volunteers prepared to greet the children of over 300 military families from Bay Area active duty, National Guard and the reserve service members Dec. 11.

When the event opened to these families, all the planning and efforts succeeded in meeting a genuine need in the Bay Area. The 351st Civil Affairs Command’s Family Readiness Support Assistant, Stacy Castellanos met that duty head on.

“We had monthly meetings to determine all that was needed for the event–location, how to distribute the toys, what types of youth groups would be invited, who would be Santa, how much food, drink, plates etc. were needed, who would provide the food and drinks and how they would be funded, security, parking, publicity, etc.,” said Castellanos.

Over 450 spouses, children and service members lined up to enter Operation Toy Drop when Santa himself arrived. The children and military families greeted a train-styled float, vibrantly colored in bright reds against a cast iron inspired body that brought Santa to the event.

Santa made his way through the line greeting the children, giving high-fives and boisterously letting out laughter as he found his chair inside where he would listen to each child’s holiday wishes.

The registration tables, staffed by volunteers from several Bay Area military units quickly began moving the families inside as each military family presented a military identification card. Inside NASA’s Buidling 152, children surveyed with excitement over 9,000 toys. Each child picked out a toy before waiting to greet Santa.

Once leaving the knee of the Kris Kringle, the families with their children moved into a room full of donated clothing and books. The parents shuffled through the wide selection of clothing that included jeans, skirts, shirts and much more, to find the right item. Meanwhile, children looked through the collection of books. Throughout the room smiles flashed from military family to military family and conversations murmured along a similar theme of, “oh, I didn’t know you were in Milpitas,” and “we’re located in Sunnyvale.”

Once the family selected the perfect item, volunteers presented them with a box of Girl Scout Cookies and a bag of Boy Scout flavored popcorn as they left the building. Outside, over 20 Bay Area community partners greeted the military families at information booths. The families meandered through the community partners, where they learned about a variety of services available to them here in the Bay Area.

Finally, the families the boarded a red and white miniature train temporarily christened the “Pizza Express” that shuttled the families over to a nearby picnic area. There, the families enjoyed pizza together before they left for the day.

Each family left with more than gifts and toys. The event brought together the Bay Area community as a reflection of the appreciation to the military family and especially their children.

“Military children don’t choose to have a parent deploy or move every 3 years, and they receive no recognition for their resiliency. This was an opportunity for us to all make military children feel appreciated, and Operation Toy Drop should grow into a better event each year,” said Castellanos.

It also brought together many military families to connect in a way they would not have otherwise. Equally importantly, it connected military families with the services offered by their local community partners, community partners that have the military family’s interest at heart.

The tradition of Operation Toy Drop started in Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1998, where soldiers donated a toy that would be distributed to children in the community. In exchange for this donation, the soldier would have the opportunity to make a parachute jump under a foreign nation’s jumpmaster. Making a parachute jump under a foreign jumpmaster grants a soldier the distinction of wearing that nation’s “jump wings” pin on their dress uniform.

Castellanos explains the Bay Area Operation Toy Drop took a different approach, without having the resources to facilitate a parachute jump. Rather the Bay Area Toy Drop focused on connecting the community and military families. It also expanded its mission to include all military families with children, rather than exclusively for families in need.

Coordinating for over 9,000 toys was no small task as Castellanos describes, “[w]e let Operation Care & Comfort coordinate the donation of toys from Kids Wish Network; however, Army Reserve units were vital in receiving the 28 pallets of toys and moving them to the event location.”

Receiving a special recognition award from Castellanos were: Kids Wish Network, Lockheed Martin Employee Foundation, NASA, Old Navy, Operation Care and Comfort and the Sound Spectrum.

The event ended at 2 p.m. that afternoon after taking care of four groups of military families, all told over 9,000 toys were distributed, nearly 100 pizzas, hundreds of articles of clothing and books were handed out to over 300 military families.

As the event ended, Director and Board Member of Kids Wish Network, Barbara Askin said, “this is really about the kids, it’s so great to see them here and to be a part of this.”

This event could not have been a success with the participation of the community partners, said Castellanos.

The community partners and volunteers that made the Bay Area Operation Toy Drop were: 129th Air Rescue Wing; 351st Civil Affairs Command; 469th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion; 63rd Regional Support Group; 7th Psychological Operations Group; American Legion Auxiliary; American Legion Post 105; Ames Research Center Fire Department; Camp Parks; City of Mountain View, Recreation Center; Family Readiness Group, 129th Air Rescue Wing; Fisher House; Junior Auxiliary, Unit 837, Dist. 10; Kids Wish Network; Lockheed Martin Employee Foundation; NASA; Old Navy; Operation Care and Comfort; Operation Military Kids; PMOSSP Flight Systems; Red Cross – Bay Area; Red Cross – Lynbrook; Red Cross – Milpitas; Red Cross – Saratoga; Red Cross – Silver Creek; Red Cross – Stanford; Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office; The First Tee; The Love of Dance; The Sound Spectrum; The Villages at Moffett and Parks and the YMCA.

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