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Wings, Marine Corps Reserve join in Toys for Tots Benefit

by Greg Monahan / Detroit Red Wings

– It may only be Thanksgiving weekend, but the Detroit Red Wings and the United States Marine Corps Reserve are looking ahead to the upcoming holiday season.

The two organizations teamed up this week for the annual Toys for Tots collection at Joe Louis Arena, a program that sees thousands of fans donate toys to underprivileged youth in Metro Detroit.

With Reserve Marines manning each entrance of The Joe on Wednesday and Saturday night, fans showed up in a giving mood, bringing both gifts and cash donations to ensure kids in need have something to smile about during the holidays. The items will be donated to local children in December, and 100% of the monetary donations received will go toward the purchase of additional presents.

"Last year in the southeastern Michigan area we collected over 300,000 toys,” said Staff Sergeant Elton Bridgeforth. “I believe we helped over 100,000 children last year, and we’re trying to exceed those numbers this year.”

Toys for Tots, which is run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, has partnered with the Red Wings for more than 15 years. The initiative puts thousands of presents under the tree for children whose families are otherwise unable to afford gifts.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of toys provided to southeast Michigan last year, Toys for Tots donated more than 16 million toys to 741 different communities across America in 2010.

“What we’re all about is the toys,” added SSgt. Bridgeforth. “For every toy that we get, that’s another child that we get to help.”

Fans that donated were entered to win a game-used, autographed stick from a Red Wing forward. Wednesday’s prize was a Valtteri Filppula stick, while Saturday featured “The Mule”, a stick used and signed by Johan Franzen.

Red Wings fan Carol Richardson has been donating to the program individually for years, but this season she brought family – and a lot of presents – with her.

“In the past, we always paid the money because you can get a raffle ticket if you donate five dollars,” said Richardson. “But it’s for a great cause, so this year I decided since the whole family was coming I would go and buy toys for all of us to bring in.”

By the end of each night, the collection boxes were barely large enough to hold the donated items. As SSgt. Bridgeforth looked at his bin, he laughed about what the night meant for his fellow Reserve Marines.

“It makes us feel good because when most people think about the Marines, they think we’re all tough, we fight wars, win wars, and that’s what the Marine Corps is all about,” he said. “But the Marines appreciate this time because it lets everybody see a different side, a softer side, and a side that cares about the community and the children.”

During a time of year when so many are in need, children throughout Metro Detroit will have gifts because of countless Wings fans who donated to the cause. For Richardson, who drove from Grand Rapids to attend the game, there was plenty more reason to donate than a shot at an autographed stick.
“I think no kid should have a Christmas without toys,” she said. “Kids need socks, they need underwear, and they need clothes, but no child should go a Christmas without a toy. That’s important to me.”
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