I am exhausted but exhilarated. So are dozens of other Marine Toys for Tots volunteers. We just distributed thousands of shiny new toys to 1,249 children in DeKalb County, AL.

These are children who probably would not have received a present under their Christmas tree, if not for you.

You gave so fervently this year; I must tell you how moved that I am.

You dug deeper and worked harder - virus or not – until you made sure no local child felt forgotten, or that Christmas passed them by.

On Christmas morning, think of those children. Imagine their joy. Remember that one Christmas when you were surprised, excited and literally jumping with joy over that special new toy!

You who gave to Marine Toys for Tots of DeKalb County in 2020 can be sure your gift implanted a memory into some child, that will never leave them.

2020 has been brutal. We dreamed of things going back to the way they were…fear and desperation melting away. But the future is daunting.

I will admit, the burgeoning need and loss of fundraisers terrified me. But after I pleaded for help at a Fort Payne City Council meeting, you simply rolled up your sleeves.

You set your minds…went above and beyond. You worked outside the box…and you carved a way to give without reservation, to help your neighbor.

Isn’t that Christmas personified?

Thinking more of another, than of yourself? Giving until it hurts? No matter the cost, plowing through fear, setbacks, dilemmas.

Where do you think that comes from?

Christmas has a way of reviving us, doesn’t it? Call me crazy…but I have hope, and joy, and peace on the eve of a terribly disconcerting, uncertain new year.

You see, I witnessed a miracle in 2020. I watched my fellow volunteers work selflessly through pain and exhaustion…day in and day out…without complaint…until they completed their mission: “Leave no child behind at Christmas”.

It is hard to find words. The report I just filed with the MarineToys for Tots Foundation shows more money given, more toys given, more children helped … in any year, since our first campaign in 2013.

The N.E. Alabama Marine Corps League, Detachment 1404, expresses its confounded appreciation to you; for you have buried us with your compassion and your determination to never let down Toys for Tots in this county.

How fortunate we are, to live and work and love and die, in such a place as this.

I am honored to say…you made us Campaign of the Year in 2019. Truth be told…you outdid 2019 in spades. As far as I am concerned, DeKalb County deserves Campaign of the Year 2020.

As a young, single mother years ago, I struggled and I went without, so my children could have things they needed. There were times I could only afford the ‘dollar toys’ for their Christmas, instead of the ones they really wanted. But they never complained. They even tried, in their childlike way, to assure me it didn’t matter. But of course, it mattered! My heart hurts every time I remember that Christmas.

We all need to ask for help sometimes. This year, 456 families asked for and received help from you.

Imagine the ripple effect over the years. When I’m long gone, I would like to think there will be parents who remember once as a child … they expected nothing for Christmas, but longed for a present, anything, to look forward to.

And because you gave…one special present revived hope in their hearts and gave them a spark of magic that only blossomed over the years…until that child, in turn, became the citizen that gives back.

God bless you, and Merry Christmas,

— LaRue Hardinger is the coordinator for the Marine Toys for Tots of DeKalb County.

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