Toy drive
Sgt. 1st Class Darrin Robinson, rear left, was among the SSI soldiers to collect gifts for children in South Carolina's foster care system last Christmas.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- By Sgt. 1st Class Darrin Robinson's estimate, he has more than 1,000 brothers and sisters.

Though raised in a foster care household, Robinson, an instructor with the Recruiting and Retention School, was not a foster child. His mother was active in foster and shelter care programs as he was growing up, and he learned to share space with the many children who passed through their home.

"We were treated no different," he said. "My mom ran a household that was very structured. If there were eight kids in the house, everyone had a time to be in the bathroom. If you missed your time, you missed your time. It was just that simple. She ran a tight ship."

Growing up in this environment prepared him for life in the military, he said, though people often assume his attitude and discipline happened by chance.

"People would tell me, 'You're a perfect fit for the military,'" he said. "No, I'm the way I am because my mom made me that way."

His life in the military and experiences with foster care came together last Christmas when he became involved in a toy drive on Fort Jackson. At first, organizers at the Soldier Support Institute had no clear target in mind for the collection drive, but Robinson said they decided not to compete with the regular outreach programs on post.

"We put some feelers out there, made some phone calls. My mom is a former foster parent, so the initial calls were made by her," he said. "I didn't know who to contact. My mom got a hold of a lady at (the Department of Social Services) for the county and they said, 'If this is something you want to do, we need all the help we can get.'"

The first plan was to ask SSI students to pledge donations to children in Richland County's foster care program, and manned drop boxes for toy donations were placed in retail stores around the area. And, once SSI students became involved, Robinson said division heads followed.

"It blew up," Robinson said. "We have classrooms that can hold 16 students plus an instructor. We had three rooms where you couldn't even see the floor. We had people saying, 'We can't generate anymore toys, we don't know what to do with them.'"

For gift ideas, they planned to use the "Letters to Santa" contributed by children in foster care, but Robinson said many of those gifts looked out of reach. That problem didn't last long, he said.

"Just because this kid wants a bike, an iPod or a computer, it doesn't mean we have to buy a bike, and iPod or a computer," he said. "In some cases there were children who got spoiled," he said. "They asked for an iPod and got an iPad."

Robinson came close to becoming a foster parent, himself, though his duties to the Army and responsibilities to his immediate community were often incompatible.

"When I was little I helped my mom," he said. "But I really haven't had the time, at least during the last few years. Most of the time you work, you get off, you go home. That's the military rut you fall into."

His responsibilities at Fort Jackson have offered a little more free time than at previous posts, he said, which has allowed Soldiers to participate in programs like the toy drive last Christmas. His unit's outreach program is very active, and he was approached as soon as he arrived.

"When I first got here I got snatched up by the outreach group," he said.

It was during Christmas and they needed help collecting toys and clothing.

The father of two daughters, Robinson said he was interested in the foster parent program because he wanted a son, and hoped the program would complete that missing part of his life. His orders to Fort Jackson interrupted plans to become a foster parent at his previous home in Nevada. He had completed 11 classes and had one final obstacle to clear before getting his license.

"I was days away from my home study when I got a set of orders bringing me to South Carolina," he said. "When I got here I still wanted a boy. I've got some friends here who just completed all of their classes for Richland County to become foster parents. But now I'm a grandfather and my oldest daughter has a two-year-old boy."

He hasn't ruled out further participation in foster care, or even adoption. The benefits of taking care of foster care children are tremendous, he said.

"You're helping kids that are in need, that someone probably discarded. There's no reason for them to suffer if you've got something to offer," he said. "My mom has had more than 1,000 kids in her household. People ask me 'How many brothers and sisters do you have?' I tell them I've got about 1,000 brothers and sisters ... I've got brothers and sisters I don't even know about."

Page last updated Thu March 29th, 2012 at 00:00