When picturing toys going out to children all over the world, a typical image that springs to mind is one with little elves working at the North Pole assembling and wrapping toys and preparing them for shipment in Santa Claus’ sleigh.
But for the past 15 years, some of those busy elves have been Soldiers from Fort Bragg.
During the Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop, one can find elves in the form of Soldiers sorting through thousands of toys, matching each toy to a child and making sure their lists are checked far more than twice.
“We are responsible for handling all the toys,” said Sgt. 1st Class Catherine Reese, one of the lead elves and an intelligence analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne). “We pretty much have our hands on the toys at least three times from the time we receive them.
First, we sort (the toys) by age and gender. Then we take our distribution lists and fill them according to the number of children at each organization we support. Finally we deliver them.”
In the past, toys weren’t donated until the day of the airborne operation. Recently, there have been more and more events before Toy Drop, which allow the public to participate in the toy collection.
“The past two years we have participated in toy collections at hockey games (with the Fayetteville FireAntz),” explained Reese. This year’s game collected over 300 toys.
Other events like 95.7 WKML’s Toy Drop concert, which gave their audience a chance to donate at the event. Local businesses and organizations are also helping by providing secure Toy Drop box locations throughout the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville community.
“The great thing about the drop boxes is that it’s a way for people who would like to participate in it who wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” said Reese. “The last couple of years we have had a Family who comes out to the drop zone just because their kids want to donate a toy (and partake in the event).”
The drop boxes around town make donating a toy very convenient to the local populace and allow them to participate in this very worthy cause.
“Many people don’t know they can (come to lottery day to donate a toy), so the drop boxes are a great way for people to support Toy Drop, but don’t exactly know how to do it,” said Reese.
Everyone’s donations get a chance to go somewhere, whether it is to a civilian organization, or a military unit who is giving out toys to needy Families. There are never too many toys.
“There are roughly 25 civilian organizations and about 30 to 35 military units that collect these toys and then distribute them to children and Families who are in need,” added Reese.
With so many organizations and units in need of toys, the elves’ work never stops during Toy Drop season. The hardest part about being an elf is being an elf.
“Battling time is the hardest thing,” said Capt. Jennifer Foster, head elf and chief of intelligence operations with USACAPOC(A). “During distribution, we not only work 12- to 15-hour days for 14 days, we’re under constant physical strain while sorting through toys, lifting bags, getting them on the truck, taking them off the truck. It’s a constant physical job,” said Foster.
After all is said and done though, most of these elves look at their impact on the community as being their favorite thing about all the hard work.
“My favorite thing about Toy Drop is knowing that as a unit, we are reaching out to the community and are able to touch people and give back a little bit to a community that gives us so much support,” said Foster.
(Editor’s note: Paratroopers will have an opportunity to earn their foreign jump wings by donating a new, unwrapped toy Friday, at 8 a.m., on Green Ramp. The public is invited to attend the main airborne operation and its festivities at Sicily Drop Zone Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. Donation boxes will be available for the public on Sicily. For more information visit www.optoydrop.net.)