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Giving Back: Toys for Tots still collecting for St. John drive

RESERVE — Following the destruction caused by Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the U.S. Marine Corps noticed an outpour of love for St. John the Baptist Parish and asked representatives from Riverlands Christian Center to help facilitate a Toys for Tots giveaway.

The event was so successful it became a holiday tradition and an annual opportunity for St. John Parish residents to help children in the community, according to coordinator Rita Perrilloux.

Residents are invited to bring children to this year’s Toys for Tots giveaway from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Riverlands Christian Center, 480 NW Third St./123 Redemption Way in Reserve.

Children up to age 12 can select their own Christmas presents, take free pictures with Santa and greet firemen and U.S. Marines while enjoying complimentary refreshments and live entertainment.

Free and open to the public, the event does not require pre-registration or proof of residency.

Toy donations are still needed and can be dropped off at Walgreens or Walmart on Airline Highway in LaPlace or Nalco Champion in Garyville until the day of the event.

“There’s so many children that have to rely on the income of their parents, so this is an extra way to help,” Perrilloux said. “Each of these children get a lasting memory of Christmas from the pictures and toys they receive.”

Perrilloux looks forward to welcoming more participation from local people and businesses in future campaigns, noting community unification is integral to success.

Volunteer Wanda Calais has advocated for children for years, dedicating time to the Salvation Army and summer school supply drives.

Her grandchildren are grown, and working with Toys for Tots is a way for her to continue working with local youth.

“I truly love it,” Calais said. “It’s all about the children, giving them a hug and a gift and helping them have a merry Christmas.

“They always give me a tight hug around my waist. That means so much to me. I can tell by the way they hug me that they don’t always get what they need at home.”

Calais said she likes to see children receive stuffed animals they can cling to for comfort and security.

Patricia Watson, Toys for Tots volunteer and parent of a 5-year-old boy who attended last year, said Legos, dolls, Hot Wheels, Transformers and Ninja Turtles are hits with children.

“There’s not a lot out here for the kids,” Winston said. “To see their faces when they heard they could pick their own toy was priceless. I was scheduled to volunteer for two hours, but I ended up staying all the way until the end when they were packing up because I enjoyed it so much.”

She said her son was most excited to meet local firemen and board the fire truck.

Rosario Dimaggio also volunteered at last year’s event and considered it a rewarding experience.

“The kids light up in the eye and they have the biggest smiles on their faces,” Dimaggio said.

One of her favorite Toys for Tots memories was seeing a little boy with a disability struggle to choose between two toys and glowing with excitement when she told him he could have both.

St. John United Way, Marathon Petroleum, Louisiana Machinery Company, Nalco Champion, Food 4 Less LaPlace, Zapps Potato Chips and Coca-Cola support the event.

For more information, call 985-210-6621.