Nearly 2,000 children benefit in toy distribution at TSU

Volunteers at the Toys for Tots distribution included TSU students, staff, alumni and representatives from charitable and church organizations. (photo: Emmanuel Freeman, TSU Media Relations)

As the holiday season takes hold, Tennessee State University is making sure children in the area have something to cheer about.

On Saturday, nearly 1,000 parents walked away with at least two toys each for their children during the U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Toys for Tots distribution on the TSU main campus. Organizers said nearly 2,000 children were served, on an average of two kids per parent.

Volunteers, including TSU students, staff, alumni, and representatives from area charitable organizations and churches, helped with the distribution in Kean Hall.

This was the result of a partnership between TSU and the Marine Corp Reserve in its annual toy distribution program. Prior to Saturday, TSU served as the official drop-off center for donated toys. Alexandra Wescott, a junior child development major from Akron, Ohio, and Dwight-Christopher Terry, a senior electrical engineering major from Memphis, Tennessee, were among volunteers helping parents to gather and secure toys for their children.

“This was just a humbling experience for me,” said Wescott, her first volunteer work outside her Akron hometown. “It feels great and very fulfilling to do something that brings so much joy to children and it is just nice to be involved with my school in such a wonderful exercise.”

For Terry, volunteering in the community is not new. His Generation of Educated Men, a student community service group, which he heads as president, has been involved in food, clothing and other drives in the area. The group was also involved with bringing the TSU/Marine Corp partnership to fruition, along with Simply United, a non-profit that coordinates the pickup of donated toys from Toys for Tots.

“I am full of joy and feel a big relief that we are finally able to give out the toys to the community because it took so much energy to put it together, as far as donation, volunteers and so forth,” Terry said. “Although we are a student organization, the TSU administration, especially [Associate Dean] Dr. William Hytche, took us very seriously when the discussion started to bring the Toys for Tots program on campus.”

As part of the partnership with the Marine Corp (the first with a university in the Nashville, Davidson County area), TSU received unwrapped toys for children up to age 12 through December 14.

“This has been quite a rewarding experience for our students, staff and all who volunteered in this great effort,” Associate Dean Hytche said. “The Tennessee State University family is so excited to partner with the Marine Corp and Simply United, through its local representative, Ms. Benetta M. Sears and her volunteers. We are just so thankful.”

Sgt. C. J. Bowling, Marine Corp training chief, is the coordinator for Toys for Tots. He said other institutions in the area have helped in the past with the toy drive, but TSU is the first university the Marine Corp has partnered with in its distribution effort.

“I like the opportunities that TSU offers,” Bowling said. “TSU was selected because it has the facilities to handle our traffic flow both for toy donation and access to people to be served. Moreover, people at TSU have been so gracious. From the associate dean, to the people in your facilities management and the Air Force unit, they have done everything we have wanted and requested.”