NYRA Cares: A holiday tradition to continue at Aqueduct with Toys for Tots

December 1, 2021

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As often happens with the best ideas, this one started simply.

It dates to a few weeks prior to Christmas 1947 when Major Bill Hendricks of the United States Marine Corps Reserve admired a rag doll that his wife, Diane, had crocheted out of yarn. So how then, Diane wondered, could they give it to a needy child in time to “have a good Christmas?”

Major Hendricks didn’t know of an agency that distributed toys. So the next day, he and a fellow Marine made a proposal to their superiors for an annual Marine Corps-sponsored holiday toy drive.

“Don’t fail” was the only advice they got.

They didn’t – with the best proof of that set for this weekend [Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5] when Marines will be at Aqueduct on behalf of Toys for Tots, the national organization Hendricks co-founded, to collect new, unwrapped toys that will be given as holiday gifts to disadvantaged children in the community. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, now in its 74th year of giving, also collects monetary donations, which it uses to purchase toys.

Unlike 2020 when NYRA’s Toys for Tots collection was entirely online because the COVID-19 pandemic had closed racing to fans, this upcoming campaign marks a return to a longstanding holiday tradition at the Big A. You can give this year online – and in-person at donation boxes at Aqueduct’s main clubhouse entrance, as well as the Turf and Field entrance.

Fans can donate at https://www.toysfortots.org/donate/ – via credit card with a secure one-step process; or by selecting and donating toys via the organization’s virtual toy box. You can donate with a check made out to the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, and mailed to: U.S. Marine Corps; Attention: GySgt, John Sardine; 605 Stewart Avenue; Garden City, NY 11530.

“This year, fans will be able to give in person at the track or virtually, allowing us to continue the tradition of working with the Marine Corps Reserve to make sure children throughout New York City and across Long Island receive toys for the holidays,” said Vanessa Rodriguez Payne, NYRA Community Relations Manager. “New York racing fans and our employees have generously supported Toys for Tots for years, and we’re thrilled to encourage that giving spirit again in 2021.”

As part of its support of the Toys for Tots Foundation, NYRA is making a financial contribution to the organization. Toys for Tots is also supported by generous contributions from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) and thoroughbred owner Harold Lerner.

“NYTHA is proud to once again support the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation and the tireless work they do in bringing joy to children,” said NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum. “Our horsemen are a vital part of our local communities, and we have no greater joy than supporting the children of our friends and neighbors during the holidays, and all year round.”

Lerner cited the age-old mission of ensuring that the holidays be special for children as his impetus for supporting Toys for Toys. “Lending a helping hand to our fellow New Yorkers is more important than ever,” he said. “The children receiving gifts should know that there is a community that cares about them.”

One of the attractions of supporting Toys for Tots is that the charity ensures that the funds and toys collected go to children in that area. That way, everything collected at Aqueduct next weekend will be distributed to New York families.

The Toys for Tots Foundation is also a Top-Rated Charity in terms of donation dollars that go directly to its mission. More than 97 percent of donations go directly to their mission of providing toys and other gifts to less fortunate children.

Last year, Marines distributed a record 20.2 million toys to 7.4 million less fortunate children throughout the nation during the Toys for Tots campaign. Collecting and distributing that many toys in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated what Lt. Gen. Jim Lester, President and CEO of Toys for Tots, described as public support for which the organization is “beyond grateful.”

“The need in 2020 was much greater than the supply in terms of the number of families with children seeking our support ,” said Lt. Gen. Lester. “The support we received made a difference to families who are struggling and provided joy and hope when they needed it the most. We were absolutely blown away by the donations we received.”

For more information on the United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, visit www.toysfortots.org.

About The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation
The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is a not for profit organization authorized by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Department of Defense to provide fundraising and other necessary support for the annual Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. Now in its 74th year, Toys for Tots provides joy and a message of hope to economically disadvantaged children through the gift of a new toy during the Christmas holiday season. Their gifts offer these children recognition and a positive memory they will cherish for a lifetime. Many of the gifts they provide, such as books, games and sports equipment, make a significant contribution to the educational, social and physical development of these children.

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