Those large red-and-white boxes you see this time of year in local businesses are a first step toward a brighter Christmas for thousands of children in Sussex County.
Working out of a warehouse in Millsboro, more than 40 dedicated volunteers support the annual U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots campaign. They distribute more than 130 boxes throughout the county; teams are assigned to pick up boxes for transport and sorting at a warehouse provided by Allen Harim.
Ted Bennicoff – with loving support from his wife, Lydia – has been a volunteer for the past 18 years. This year he is county coordinator as a member of Marine Corps League Diamond State Detachment 704. Devil Dog Detachment in Seaford also helps with the effort.
Bennicoff, served two tours in Vietnam as a Marine and was wounded three times. He moved with his wife from Pennsylvania two decades ago, after suffering a stroke that forced him out of the workforce. After his military service, he was a nuclear plant pipe fitter and then a pipe fitter on nuclear submarines in Groton, Conn.
He joined the Marine Corps League soon after moving to the area and immediately became active in the organization.
“Our kids and grandkids are in Pennsylvania, so the kids down here have become our Christmas, and we really enjoy it,” he said as he helped families at the warehouse who were picking up their toys.
Bennicoff said the group is overwhelmed at the outpouring of donations totaling thousands of toys for children from infants to teens.
Several businesses get behind the effort. Dogfish Head employees dropped off more than $4,000 worth of toys to support the campaign, which matches what they do every year, Bennicoff said.
He said donations and the number of families served are running ahead of last year's. So far, nearly 500 families have been served. Thirteen other organizations receive toy donations and distribute them to families.
Needy families fill out an application online and submit it to the local Toys for Tots organization. The families are vetted, and those who are eligible are placed on a list with the age and gender of each child.
Then volunteers go to work filling out the wish lists, and families are contacted to pick up their toys.
The last orders have now been filled, and the final pickup date is Wednesday, Dec. 20.