Michelle Obama urges donating gifts for older children

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 16, 2009 

STAFFORD, Va. — First lady Michelle Obama is asking Americans who plan to donate to the Marines' Toys for Tots program but haven't yet to choose gifts for 11- to 14-year-olds, an age group for whom she said there was a dearth of gifts this year.

She learned of the shortage Wednesday when she visited Marine Corps Base Quantico's distribution center, in donated warehouse space about a 45-minute drive from the White House. She'd come to drop off about 30 percent of the 500 gifts that White House staffers have donated to the effort so far. A distribution center in the District of Columbia is to receive hundreds of donations from White House staff as well.

After speaking with Marines, spouses and volunteers who were sorting unwrapped gifts into piles by age group, Obama, who'd arrived lugging a bulging red sack, said that everybody donated good toys for little kids.

"One of the challenges that this program has is really finding toys for the older kids," she said. "Those are the bins for the kids that are 11 to 14, and as you can see, they're almost empty here. . . . You look over in those bins and you just sort of think, you know, the little kids, great, but, you know, if you're 11, you're still waiting for Santa, and you still want to make sure that they have something in the stocking.

"I'm going to go back shopping because we still have a couple of more days, and we're going to pick up some more toys for 11- to 14-year-olds."

Donations from White House staff this year include board games, Legos, books and a Barbie Corvette toy car, aides said.

A spokeswoman for the first lady said the Obamas personally had donated some toys. There were no details on what toys or how many, other than that the Obamas' daughters, Sasha and Malia, helped make the selections for elementary- and middle-school-aged children.

The Marines began Toys for Tots in 1947. Since then, they've distributed more than 400 million toys to more than 188 million children, according to the organization.

The Marines' goal this year at the Quantico base is to collect 150,000 toys to distribute to 75,000 kids. The toys go to underprivileged children from civilian and military families.

Inside, near the front entrance, a Christmas tree was surrounded Wednesday by hundreds of unwrapped gifts, including bicycles, a tricycle, a toy tank, board games, a U.S. Marines special edition Monopoly set, dolls, a kids' basketball hoop and stand, and several red and green Santa-sized sacks.

"We wish everybody a happy holidays, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, everybody out there who's celebrating anything: Happy," Obama said in brief remarks before touring the distribution facility.

She told the Marines, their spouses and volunteers that, especially in a time of war and economic crisis, "You show America that you can dig even deeper in this time."

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