FRCE Commanding Officer and Marines support Toys for Tots

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Commanding Officer Capt. James Belmont joins Marines from the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron to display toys donated to Toys for Tots by FRCE employees. The Marines are collecting toys until December 13, when they will transport the toys to the Marine Corps Reserves’ eastern North Carolina collection point at Camp Lejeune. Pictured from left, Belmont, Cpl. Marco Hernandez, Cpl. Devon Schoff and Sgt. Dylan Harbo.

FRCE makes Toys for Tots a holiday tradition

Two sure signs of the holidays at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) are Toys for Tots boxes posted throughout the facility and rows of toys and bicycles purchased by groups of FRCE employees to fill those boxes.

The Marine Corps Reserve sponsors the nationwide program, now in its 75th year. Its mission is to collect and distribute new, unwrapped toys to disadvantaged children, who might not otherwise receive holiday gifts. Nationally, Toys for Tots estimates that the organization has given toys to more than 281 million children since it was founded in 1947.

At FRCE, the Toys for Tots program is administered by Marines assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron. Collection boxes were posted in locations throughout the FRCE facility in early November, with the drive running through mid-December. FRCE Marines will collect the toys and transport them to the eastern North Carolina collection point at Camp Lejeune at the end of the drive.

Master Sgt. Don Matthews is coordinating the Toys for Tots drive at FRCE. He said the children’s reactions to receiving a toy make assisting with Toys for Tots a rewarding experience for the Marines and Reservists who take part.

“They may be shy when they first meet the Marines, but once we talk to them and get them a toy, they warm up to us,” Matthews said. “You see them glow, smile and laugh, and their excitement and joy makes the event special for everyone involved.”

Many employees at FRCE consider donating to Toys for Tots a holiday tradition. For example, employees in FRCE’s engine production shops have pooled their resources to purchase bicycles for Toys for Tots for the last decade. Tom Hoover, now a production control supervisor, said he decided to organize the first collection among his coworkers after he noticed a nearly empty collection box on his way into work one morning.

“After seeing that box staying empty, I thought it shouldn’t be that hard to fill up a box with toys, if someone would just take the lead,” Hoover said. “I offered to buy the toys if my coworkers were willing to donate, and now it’s become a tradition.”

Hoover said the engine line’s Toys for Tots drive has grown from a couple of production shops to covering more than three buildings at FRCE. One year, the employees purchased nearly 40 bicycles, and last year’s donation was a mix of bicycles, toys and a cash donation. Hoover said volunteers are now coordinating the collection drive, but he still looks forward to purchasing the toys.  

Other shops and aircraft lines are also showing their Christmas spirit through group donations to Toys for Tots. For example, the F-35 and AV-8 aircraft lines are teaming up to purchase bicycles for the second year, and FRCE’s unions have a long history of contributing to purchase toys.

Ike Rettenmair, head of the F-35 and AV-8 branch at FRCE, said his team members look forward to making the holidays more special for area children.

“Toys for Tots is a stellar organization, and the thought of giving a child a bicycle that he or she might not otherwise have is important to me and the group,” Rettenmair said. “As a former Marine, giving to Toys for Tots was an easy choice.”

Rory Brown, aircraft engine training leader and president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 2297, said participating in Toys for Tots is a holiday tradition for the employees he represents.

“Since I’ve been in the union, Toys for Tots has been a must do,” Brown said. “It’s Christmas, and it’s the time of year when everybody’s in a good mood to give to those who are less fortunate.”  

Hoover said thinking about the children who will receive the gifts makes Toys for Tots a special part of his holidays.

“It’s in my mind that someone’s going to have a better Christmas than they would have without my donation,” Hoover said. “I enjoy doing it, knowing that I’m helping the children, and that’s what the program is for.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

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