MILILANI, Hawaii -- Getting into the Christmas spirit, the Soldiers of the 65th Engineer Battalion, 130th Eng. Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and the students of their partnership school, Mililani Middle School, came together to hold a toy drive, Nov. 30, for two organizations that embody the true nature of Christmas: Toys for Tots and the Make a Wish Foundation.

Community supporters brought and gave more than 500 toys during the drive; toys ranged from an action figure to full-youth bicycles.

"It's a really special event," said 1st Lt. Courtney Heaps, assistant plans officer, 65th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde. "Many people have tunnel vision when it comes to their family and their community, so we are trying to get these kids to see that a lot of other children are not as blessed and not as fortunate, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. They are seeing that they can really make a difference and make someone's Christmas a little bit better."

The battalion visited the school a week prior to get the kids excited about the upcoming drive, and for every three toys donated, the students and Soldiers would make a lap around their school's soccer field. The two organizations split the toys that were donated, and each was very appreciative of all the community support.

"The only way Toys for Tots can work is if the community is involved," said Edward Hans, primary Toys for Tots coordinator for Maui and Oahu. "Without events like this, it doesn't work. We really rely on these events to get our toys and help the community."

Lori Anderson, official wish granter with the Make a Wish Foundation, echoed Hans' comments.
"This is just a fantastic opportunity for us," she said. "We are in need of toys for our toy closet. We have about 70 kids spread across the island that are waiting for their wishes to be granted.

I can't tell you enough how much this means to our kids. We can't show our appreciation enough."

The Soldiers and students recognize the importance of holding these types of events, and the ripple effect it makes throughout the Oahu community.

"There might be times that are hard growing up, but we can always give something back -- no matter how big or small it might be," said Spc. Mary Steward, information technician, 65th Eng. Bn. "Personally, I was not as fortunate growing up and was on the receiving end of Toys for Tots, so for me to be able to give back is a wonderful turn around."

With holiday music playing and the Soldiers and students joking, laughing and running around the field, this event was more than just a toy drive, said Heaps. The event brought the community a little closer together and reminded everyone what the season of Christmas was all about.

"This not only helps Toys for Tots, but helps the community," Hans said. "The kids are very excited about their donations and are asking lots of questions about how to help out further. Events like these bring out the spirit of giving and the true nature of Christmas."