By Monica Wood, Fort Sill FMWRDecember 13, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Sunday night's snow didn't accumulate on the ground but it was enough to get Santa to the RecPlex for the Toys for Kids opening Dec. 10.
Santa was at the Toys for Kids distribution center to ensure all the toys have been delivered safely and that there are free toys for children of all ages.
"Santa got a lot of letters from children in Lawton-Fort Sill and surrounding areas and he wants to make sure everyone on the list has their toys," said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, director, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "The opening of the distribution center went well, and Santa seemed to be pleased with the selection of toys available for military children of all ages."
FMWR will run the center through Dec. 21 to ensure all military members and their families have the help they need during this holiday season. A separate area is available for children while their parents shop for toys on the shelves.
Hours of operation for the Toys for Kids program are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It's closed Saturday and Sunday.
All military members needing help must go through their command channels and be referred to the center.
"This is the fourth year Family and MWR has been in charge of this program and the participation in our event continues to grow every year," said Spencer-Ragland.
She said for the fourth year all the toys at the center are new toys.
"Each child will have the opportunity to get two new toys, but these aren't just new toys they are the newest and hottest toys. We have some great secret shoppers who volunteer their time to go out and buy the latest games and toys to help Santa check all the toys off his list," she said.
Spencer-Ragland said the secret shoppers start buying toys typically in October, but they work with Santa throughout the year to check what toys are popular and what children are asking for.
The program serves more than 400 families, which adds up to a lot of children.
"That's more than 2,000 children each year. We work with all ranks but it is specifically geared for the lower ranking enlisted Soldiers," she said.
The center staff not only works with junior enlisted Soldiers, but also with families with special circumstances, such as those who have lost belongings in a fire.
"We want all military children to enjoy their Christmas," she said. "We work with all Soldiers who have a need."
The three rooms are full of toys which tally up to $20,000. There are also more toys and donations from sponsors available.
"We couldn't do this program without our sponsors who give generously every year," she said.
The program is funded entirely by sponsors and donations and most of the preparation and execution of the program is done by volunteers.
"We also use the volunteers from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program who staff the center and monitor the toys. These Soldiers keep a list of what's getting low so we can go out and purchase more toys if some are going faster than others," she said.
Spc. Scottie Scribner, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, who shopped for toys with his wife and two of their sons said they were getting great gifts to put under the tree for their five children.
"We have never used a program like this before but with five children to get gifts for this program definitely helps," he said. "We just got to Fort Sill and they don't do anything like this in Hawaii, so this is really awesome and we will have five very happy children on Christmas."