Contractors spread holiday cheerPublished 10:49pm Monday, December 9, 2013
Suffolk’s Toys for Tots coordinator is in full swing in the lead-up to Christmas, visiting local business and organizations to pick up donations before Santa starts squeezing down chimneys.
John Woleben met a reporter in North Suffolk Monday who climbed aboard his Duke Automotive-furnished collection van to visit a couple of Harbour View defense contractors.
Woleben said he has started making collection runs in earnest in just the past week or so. “I guess I’ve filled (the van) a couple of times already, and I expect to fill it numerous times,” he said.
The first stop was Exelis, which collected toys for the U.S. Marine Corp Reserves campaign for the second year.’
Exelis’ John Dowdy, assisted by another ex-Marine now working for the company, Jason Hanbury, as well as Brandon Smith, met Woleben just inside the front door.
Dowdy said his involvement with Toys for Tots started 14 years ago as an active-duty Marine collecting and distributing toys while he was stationed in El Paso, Texas.
“When we came here, we decided to support the local Toys for Tots program,” he said.
The men handed over a box stuffed with top-quality merchandise, and, after shooting the breeze for a minute or two, Woleben was on his merry way.
Next stop was Northrop Grumman, where the VERITAS (Veterans, Employees and Reservists Inspired to Act and Serve) group handed over two boxes.
These boxes had been expertly packed, Woleben declared. “This many toys would normally be in four boxes – you’ve really packed them in!”
Sandra Lassiter, chair of the group’s Toys for Tots drive, said the donation included more than $1,200 worth of toys, many of them donated by Northrop Grumman employees working at the nearby Joint Staff J7 Joint and Coalition Warfighting centers.
“We have a bicycle. We have every sport (covered) — baseball, basketball, soccer,” Lassiter said.
“We have everything from dollar-store stocking-stuffers to a remote-controlled bicycle worth about $80.”
VERITAS has supported other causes, Lassiter said, such as placing flags on graves during Veterans Day, but had decided upon Toys for Tots as a major campaign to kick off the group’s activities.
“This is part of our organization giving back to the community,” she said.
Woleben explained that, according to Salvation Army estimates, about 5,600 local children would need gifts from the campaign this year, up from 4,600 in 2012.
“They’re needed now, because they are starting to distribute them,” he said, adding his last pick-up is scheduled for Dec. 20, but those toys will be carried over to 2014.