Toys for Tots Marks a Holiday Tradition at Aqueduct

December 6, 2022

Photo by NYRA/Coglianese

NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – By the time his work is finished this season for Toys for Tots, Major Chuck Kilbride of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve will have orchestrated 269 events in the New York metro area on behalf of the charity that collects and distributes new toys for needy children for the holidays.

And his favorite of those events? “No question, it’s going to Aqueduct,” he said. “The New York racing community is the most caring, sharing group of people I know. If they have a big day at the track, they’re very generous to Toys for Toys. If they don’t, they still give. Fans, trainers, it doesn’t matter. Their generosity is really something.”

Major Kilbride and his fellow Marines were at Aqueduct for NYRA’s Toys for Toys Day on Saturday, December 3, Cigar Mile Handicap Day. It marked his 32nd year representing the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation at Aqueduct in what has become a cherished holiday tradition at NYRA.

Fans on Saturday left new, unwrapped toys for the children in donation boxes in the Aqueduct clubhouse. Others made donations to Major Kilbride and other Marines and “Tots” supporters, who were part of a winner’s circle ceremony after the fifth race, named in honor of Toys for Tots.

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 contributions from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) as well as thoroughbred owner Harold Lerner.

Lerner started making an annual donation 10 or 12 years ago, he said, at the suggestion of trainer Gary Contessa, a regular contributor to Toys for Tots. 

“There are a lot of kids who could get left behind,” Lerner said of the needy kids who can use a boost at this time of year. “Giving them a toy and making them happy can make a difference. The children receiving gifts should know that there is a community that cares about them. And sometimes, an act of kindness inspires those children to do something great in their lives.”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, which dates to several 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 terse advice they got.

But that was good enough – with the best proof of that what happens each year at Aqueduct. 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 is distributed to families in New York.

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 its mission of providing toys and other gifts to less fortunate children.

Currently, the Marine Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation distributes an average of 18 million toys to 7 million needy children annually. It also has a literacy program, that provides books and educational resources to disadvantaged children.

Back at Aqueduct, Major Kilbride relishes the chance to contribute. “People at the racetrack all are all sorts of people and so giving when it comes to Toys for Tots,” he said. “We love it here.”

Fans can continue to donate online at – using a credit card with a secure one-step process; or by selecting and donating toys through the organization’s virtual toy box. You can also give with a check made out to the “Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation” and mailed to: U.S. Marine Corps; Attention: GySgt, John Sardine; 605 Stewart Avenue; Garden City, N.Y. 11530.

@jonathanstettin I for one can still actually feel the pall cast over the crowd and game that day. It was palpable. Kudos 2/2

William G. Gotimer (@WilliamGotimer) View testimonials