Time to fill 'er up with Toys for Tots

By Clay Wilson

U.S. Marines are generally regarded as rugged, tough, "first-to-fight" soldiers. But, it turns out, even Leathernecks have a soft spot for children.

"It's hard to turn that down – to give a child that normally doesn't have anything for Christmas a couple of toys," said USMC Reserve Cpl. Michael Newton.

Newton, who is attached to a reserve unit in Chattanooga, is a student at Mercer University in Macon. He said he's been involved with the Toys for Tots program for four years.

This year Newton volunteered to help coordinate the collection efforts in the Macon area. But when a representative of Peachtree Peddlers Flea Market in McDonough contacted him about helping with collections here, he agreed.

"(McDonough's) kind of there on the border" between the Macon and Atlanta TFT campaigns, he explained.

But Newton also has a local contact – 21-year-old Mercer senior Mary Ladner, with whom he has a class. For that class – political science – Ladner must do a service-learning project.

Through her acquaintance with Newton, she decided that TFT would be the perfect project.

"He would tell me stories about just the fulfillment he's had from it in the past years, and I just decided it sounded like a worthwhile project," Ladner said.

Ladner, who commutes to Mercer from McDonough, said she has been acting as liaison between Newton and Peachtree Peddlers.

Peachtree Peddlers General Manager Peggy Alexander said that participating in the Toys for Tots campaign this year is an attempt to expand the business' tradition of giving back to the community.

"We wanted to reach more children," Alexander said. "With the Toys for Tots program, they reach so many people," she said.

According to the Toys for Tots Web site, last year the program distributed 12.9 million toys to 5.7 million children throughout the nation.

In the process of meeting with Newton about the local TFT campaign, the idea of filling up a truck surfaced. Ladner said Newton mentioned a tractor-trailer, but eventually the group settled on something smaller – two Ford F-150 pickup trucks.

The group contacted Legacy Ford in McDonough to get the trucks donated.

According to Legacy General Manager Chris Allebone, the dealership was happy to get involved. He said that Legacy has been a drop-off point for Toys for Tots for the last five-or-so years.

"It's a good cause ?," he said.

The two F-150s from Legacy will be at Peachtree Peddlers from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they will be accompanied by a contingent of Marines in dress blues, including Newton.

Alexander said she is hoping for a successful event. She said that the flea market was already busy on Friday, although the rainy, cold weather seemed to be affecting the crowds.

"If it clears off, we will, God willing, have good crowds, and we will have good participation," she said.

She said she wants to see both the pickups filled with toys on Saturday. And noting that Peachtree Peddlers will be accepting donations until Dec. 21, she added, "I'd like to be able to do that every weekend.

"It's all about children, to me. If you can help one child, then you've done something very, very big and very, very good ?."