FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Organizers of this past holiday's "Mountain of Toys" to benefit the children of Fort Drum Soldiers say the annual program was another big hit.

"This was the 17th year the Sergeants Major Association spearheaded the Mountain of Toys pro- gram, and it was a huge success," said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joe McLaughlin, treasurer of Fort Drum's Sergeants Major Association.

Every year since the initiative began in the 1990s, thousands of free toys have gone to qualifying Fort Drum Soldiers with a child age 14 or younger. This year, 2,200 gifts ended up in the hands of hundreds of Fort Drum children, McLaughlin said.

"Without the help of generous local businesses, 1st BCT Soldiers and family readiness groups, and the local garrison, we could not have helped 283 Army Families have a better holiday," he said.

To participate, Soldiers had to first submit a request form signed by their units' senior enlisted adviser back in November.

Participants picked up unwrapped toys in December at the Monument Ridge Community Center, where 1st BCT Soldiers and family readiness group members had erected a "Santa's Workshop."
McLaughlin said leftover toys, clothes and food were donated to the Urban Mission in Watertown on the Saturday before Christmas.

Fort Drum Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Oldroyd, who helped place command emphasis on this year's Mountain of Toys, said gift donations and many behind-the-scene volunteers helped to make this year's program another success.

"This isn't about any one of us; it's about helping others," Oldroyd said. "Being involved with something like this is a feel-good (thing) -- it's humbling. But at the same time, the hope is that in a great and perfect world, no one would need us."

Even though the program received plenty of advertising this year, Oldroyd said it is not always a guarantee that every Family in the community will hear about it. When sergeants major from a few units called him at the last minute to ask for additional support, Oldroyd said every Family was given the chance to participate.

"We didn't turn anyone away," he said. "The success of it was (people) knew who to contact. They didn't just stop."

Oldroyd said he also took many phone calls from 1st BCT's Staff Sgt. Joseph Price, who led Soldiers' efforts in setting up and running Santa's Workshop last month alongside Lisa Jefferds, the bri-gade's family readiness support assistant.

"(The) brigade was awesome," Oldroyd said. "(Price) called me anytime he had an issue or wasn't sure about something."

After selecting a toy, participants received stocking-stuffers and entered their name in a drawing that gave them a chance to win more expensive toys, such as bicycles and skateboards.
The larger gifts came through a toy drive conducted by 7th Engineer Battalion, which donated more than 200 items.

This year, the Mountain of Toys program also enlisted the help of Fort Drum Cub Scouts Pack 26. Dens designed and decorated toy collection boxes before deploying them across post so members of the community could conveni-ently donate new or gently used toys.

"I think the people involved got just as much out of it maybe as (the ones receiving)," Oldroyd said. "Hopefully, more than just the toy, we gave them a little hope. Maybe (they will say): 'Hey, people do care.'"

Going forward, Oldroyd said he believes the program will continue to help Families for many holidays to come.

"I hope we can get the word out even more," he said. "I think there can be more interface with the units.

"We need to take good ideas and put the things we can do into action," Oldroyd said. "That's the attitude that I think is refreshing about the Sergeants Major Association. Everybody has a can-do attitude."

Page last updated Thu January 17th, 2013 at 00:00