By Alba N. Cuebas
Toys for Tots Foundation
Public Affairs Specialist
San Juan, Puerto Rico – In a collaborative Christmas initiative, Puerto Rican native, Lieutenant Commander Natalia Luchetti of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels distributed toys at Amalia Marín Elementary School in San Juan alongside U.S. Marines stationed on the island working for the national nonprofit, Toys for Tots, on December 15, 2023.
Luchetti, hailing from the Castillo community of Mayagüez, was raised under circumstances very similar to the children at the event. "In 1989, I remember Toys for Tots coming after Hurricane Hugo. Receiving that little toy on the basketball court, that always stayed with me. From then on, the idea of being able to help families and give back what I have received in the Navy to our island has remained in my heart. For me, this is very important and [a large part of] why I am still serving," she remarked.
The distribution was made possible by the Blue Angels, who brought thousands of toys donated by Hasbro to the island in their C-130 Hercules "Fat Albert" plane, all of which will be distributed throughout communities in Puerto Rico.
The Blue Angels, recognized for showcasing the teamwork and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, have joined this noble cause to spread Christmas joy. Since 1946, they have captivated over 500 million fans with their impressive flight demonstrations and commitment to community.
"This is an honor. Being from Mayagüez, from this island, for me, it's an experience that can’t be compared to anything I’ve done in the armed forces. Being able to come and distribute something that I received as a child is inspiring," said Luchetti, who recently made history as the first Puerto Rican woman to become a maintenance officer in Blue Angels history.
The event sparked embers of hope that multiplied across the students, a reality that might otherwise not have been possible without the collaboration of the Blue Angels, Hasbro and Toys for Tots. The collaboration of these organizations not only aims to brighten the holidays for local children, but also address the challenges facing Puerto Rico after several years of natural disasters, supply chain issues, and current economic difficulties.
Nelis Lopez Zayas, a special education teacher at the school, expressed the impact the distribution had on her students. "Children in Puerto Rico need committed people who are focused on [propelling] our children forward. This is a moment to bring families together who have experienced so many sad events. These moments bring a lot of happiness and joy to our students, and it's super nice [for them to be able] to bring a little joy [back] to their homes," said Zayas.
Toys for Tots, the nonprofit led by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, is celebrating 76 years of bringing joy, comfort, and hope to economically disadvantaged children nationwide in 2023. With a track record of over 291 million children benefited since 1947, the organization has proven to be a positive force for future generations across the nation during the holidays.
When asked about the impact she hoped to have on the youth of Puerto Rico by participating in the event, Luchetti remarked, "If a Mayagüez native who entered the Navy as an E-1 is now a lieutenant commander in the Blue Angels, anyone can do it. I joined the Navy at 18 without speaking a word of English, and I've come [this far] 23 years later. So keep dreaming, recognize your goals, don't give up, and move forward."
While this event created smiles of joy in over 100 young Puerto Ricans who are poised to shape the island’s future, Toys for Tots will continue to distribute toys during the holidays to spread even more hope across the Caribbean.
For more information about Toys for Tots, visit: www.toysfortots.org.
For more information about the Blue Angels, visit: https://www.blueangels.navy.mil/