National leadership of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation paid a special visit to meet with Disney VoluntEARS Dec. 18 as they prepared to greet hundreds of families in need who lined their cars up on a warm Orlando morning outside a toy distribution center. The surprise visit was planned to allow the Foundation leadership to officially recognize Disney’s enduring support for Toys for Tots that dates back to the beginning of the iconic nonprofit.
Toys for Tots began in 1947 in Hollywood as the brain child of Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks and his wife Diane. Maj. Hendricks, an executive in the entertainment industry, was friends with many celebrities who he approached to help support the newly created Marine Toys for Tots program. As a personal friend, Walt Disney designed the first Toys for Tots poster which included a miniature three-car train that was subsequently adopted as the Toys for Tots logo that is still in use today.
In recognition of this decade-long relationship, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jim Laster, president and CEO of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and members of his leadership team joined Mickey Mouse to thank Disney cast members during a special recognition ceremony held inside the distribution warehouse.
“Disney has been our foundation’s longest and most loyal supporter for more than 70 years,” Lt. Gen. Laster said. “Our foundation is built upon the dream of one Marine to make a difference for families in need during the holidays and the unwavering support we received from legends like Walt Disney and the company he founded.”
Ongoing support for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation has been part of Disney’s legacy of support for the U.S. military dating back to the earliest days of The Walt Disney Company. And, in gratitude for the incredible work Toys for Tots has done for families across the nation and in Central Florida, members of the Disney SALUTE veteran affinity group presented Lt. Gen Laster and his team with SALUTE military challenge coins which are offered in recognition of a job well done.
This year, Disney’s longstanding relationship with Toys for Tots continued with the Disney Ultimate Toy Drive – now extended through Dec. 24 on shopDisney. The company kicked off the Disney Ultimate Toy Drive with a $500,000 donation to Toys for Tots to help provide toys to children and inspire hope where it’s needed most this holiday season. As part of this donation, $50,000 directly supported efforts for the Central Florida community. This year, more than 10,000 toys were donated at Walt Disney World Resort, making a world of difference for children and families in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.
Walt Disney World Resort has supported the 2021 drive in many ways including in-person donation drop-boxes at Disney Springs, in backstage locations and at special cast events throughout the entirety of the drive. Hundreds of Disney VoluntEARS also helped by taking shifts to sort & distribute the donated toys at local Toys for Tots warehouses for the past several weeks, collectively volunteering more than 2,000 hours.
Many of the VoluntEARS working during the Toys for Tots Foundation leadership visit were members of Disney”s SALUTE Veteran affinity group.
“It was a great day, supporting Toys for Tots and helping make this time of year special for everyone in our Central Florida community,” said Lisa Arney, Senior Manager with Disney Signature Experiences Communications and veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves. “I’m glad I could share this experience with my daughters who could see the benefits of volunteering and its positive impact of on our community first hand.”
These efforts are among the many ways Walt Disney World Resort gives back to the community, joining the recent $3 million in grant donations to important causes in the community made in honor of the 50th Anniversary celebration.
Blog by Cappy Surette, Manager, Executive Communications at Disney Parks Experiences and Products and co-chair of the Veteran Business Employee Resource Group known as “Disney SALUTE”