Every year, during the holidays, Duke Warner Realty supports a Nation-wide toy drive that was introduced to our community 11 years ago, with the help of a local Bend veteran, Mark Wirges. The Marine Corps league of Bend became a local community organization (LCO) for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program in 2008. Toys for Tots is a nationally recognized program that distributes toys to children in need, during the holidays. The program has been active since 1947, and in 1948, a year after the program began, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve adopted it and expanded it nationwide. Since it’s inception, Marines have collected and distributed over 548,000,000 toys to date.
Here in Central Oregon, the local Toys for Tots program has been successful for over a decade, thanks to the dedication and hard work of Mark Wirges, Sr. and his team of “Elves.” The volunteers are a fine group of Bend residents who, for the most part, have been volunteers with Mark and his wife, Susie Wirges, from the start. Mr. and Mrs. Wirges were the Toys for Tots coordinators until 4 years ago when Jodie Shaffer took over and remains in the position today. There have been many local volunteers throughout the past decade and the list continues to grow as the program expands. Roger and Valerie Heegard, Roger and Bonnie Points, Tom and Martha Marple, Mike Bodell and Gary Teadtke are a few of the wonderful locals who make this program such a success. They spend countless hours collecting, organizing, and making sure every child receives at least two toys, along with stocking stuffers, every year.
The program relies on both individual community members and the support of local businesses. Without the generosity of the people who donate toys and cash, the program would not be possible. For the past two years, Blue Dog RV has graciously donated warehouse space, so Toys for Tots has a central location to store and organize all the toys and bikes while they coordinate the lists of children in need, coming in from local agencies. Because of their generosity, and the generosity of multiple storage companies in the past, it has alleviated the need for paid storage rentals, which is normally an expense Toys for Tots would incur each year. Saving money with free storage translates into more dollars being spent on the children’s toys, as well as eliminating the need to move the toys, so the volunteer staff celebrates this incredible opportunity businesses have afforded the program over the years.
The local Toys for Tots program isn’t limited to just Central Oregon. In the 11 years the program has been operating, it has expanded to reach far outside the Central Oregon area, covering towns in a multitude of Eastern Oregon communities. This year, children from Christmas Valley, Burns, Madras, Jefferson County, all the way to Wheeler, Lake and Harney Counties, will receive toys that have been collected in Madras, Prineville, Bend and Redmond. Donation boxes have been hosted in a multitude of businesses across Central Oregon since October and to date, Wirges estimates over 6,000 kids will receive gifts this year alone. And remember, each child receives at least two gifts, so that’s over 12,000 toys donated just this year! A very impressive number considering the operation is conducted by volunteers only. Every penny donated is used for the program, none of the “elves” or volunteers receive any monetary compensation for their time spent collecting, donating, campaigning, etc.
Toys for Tots is a thriving program that relies on continued support from community members and local businesses. Some of the larger local sponsors include but aren’t limited to; Les Schwab, Bi Mart, Walmart, Papa Murphy’s, Ace Hardware, Cascade Disposal, Merrill Lynch, Moonlight Mailing, Hertz, AG Edwards and of course, Duke Warner Realty. Without these gracious companies, Toys for Tots wouldn’t have the opportunity to make so many children happy this holiday season. And of course, we can’t forget to thank the man who helped grow this program at the local level, Mr. Wirges, our local version of Santa, or as his wife Susie calls him, “Central Oregon’s Top Shelf Elf.” He has a twinkle in his eye and a contagious laugh that makes even the grumpiest grinch break out in smiles. Our deepest respect and gratitude goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Wirges, Jodie Shaffer and the inspiring group of volunteers that work hard to bring joy to thousands of Oregonians each year.
There is still time, if you would like to donate a toy or make a monetary donation this season, please bring it to the box stationed in our lobby at Duke Warner Realty. If you have any questions or want to contact Jodie Shaffer about volunteering for Toys for Tots, please send your inquiry to www.toysfortots.org.