Story by: Capt. Esperanza Meza, PAO – 19th Regt.
A few days before Christmas, members of the Texas State Guard deliver donated toys to various children's hospitals in their local areas to bring broad smiles to kids and teens. With a goal to raise 10,000 toys this year the TXSG Chaplains group, with the guidance of TXSG Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Sewell, kicked off the Young Heroes of the Guard Christmas Toy Drive. The intent is to far-surpass last year's donations of 6,644 toys and leave a year's worth of toys behind at every hospital they visit.
In 2009, two Chaplains were initiated a challenge by a TXSG officer creating the Young Heroes of the Guard after a news report aired. The officer saw a report of children suffering in hospitals; families hurting emotionally and struggling financially, with all of them feeling forgotten during the holidays. That first year they focused their attention mainly on collecting toys for Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. There is perhaps little which is more painful to a child than to be in the hospital during the holidays rather than at home. In the following years, the vision was expanded to include five hospitals statewide; the goal, to include 15-18 more hospitals this year.
Many touching stories have arisen over the years since this effort began. One story, noted by Chaplain (Capt.) David Fish, 4th Regiment, Fort Worth, came from Cpl. Vic Segura, who visited a cancer floor. The report stated, "One kid in particular made all of us in our group break down. We found out later that she loved art. A gift given to her took her to another place, a better place than a hospital and her current condition. Things given to her helped her create art… creating happiness. Immediately she cried when she got her gift. Anyone with a heart would have cried too upon seeing that. Art she created was shown… amazing. Without that gift somebody gave to our cause, we were told that she would have never been able to have it because her family cannot afford items like that."
Such stories and experiences as these have provided abundant motivation as TXSG units across the state this year started early collecting toys by encouraging businesses, schools, churches and organizations to join the effort. Operation Matthew 25, a grassroots organization promoting humanitarian needs, initiated a partnership challenging its members to raise 1000 toys by sending their gifts through Amazon.com.
To raise more toys, led by Chaplain Sewell and Staff Sgt. John Gately, the 1st Annual Texas State Guard - Veterans Day Celebration & Toy Drive was held in Frisco, Texas. The message, "Do your duty, take care of your people and get those 10,000 toys," was exclaimed by keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Jake Betty, Commanding General of the TXSG. Representative Dan Flynn, Texas House Representative, District 2, and Colonel in the Army Component Command of the TXSG, also attended.
Gately, TXSG Headquarters J-6, has been instrumental in coordinating with donation providers and in creating the current TXSG toy drive website, www.txsgtoydrive.org. Starting at 19th Regiment in 2010 and then transferring to HQ in Austin, Gately directed his toy drive efforts benefiting Dell Children's Medical Center. "I remember Loxy Passmore, a Child Life assistant. As she was telling me that some toys would be in the hospital's play rooms and given as gifts to young patients, she was looking over the mounds of stuffed bears. She was clearly looking for - or hoping to see - something in particular," said Gately. "We have one little boy here, right now who just loves panda bears. I hope there's a panda in there somewhere,” he recalls her stating. “Moments later, a stuffed panda emerged from the pile. Passmore's eyes lit up. ‘This will mean so much.. All of this,’" stated Gately.
With a personal goal to raise 3,000 toys, Gately fanned out to local businesses setting up donation boxes, partnering with a golf event in Denton and getting a donation from the TXSG non-profit organization for teddy bears. "When I was six years old, I broke my leg. When I got out of the hospital, my parents got me a stuffed teddy bear," said Gately. "I remember how happy it made me. Now I want to help bring the same joy to other children."
Several TXSG soldiers are leading the drive to collect 1000 or more toys on their own like Sgt. James Williams, 2nd Regiment, in Austin, who has collected over 600 toys. Also, Staff Sgt. Rhueben Towne, who serves dual roles with the 447th Air Support Group at Ellington Field JRB in Houston and with 5th Air Wing TXSG as an A6 NCOIC has also raised 730 toys. Additionally, Towne has won the participation of a professional basketball team - the Houston Rockets - with a portion of their ticket proceeds pledged to go towards Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital. Towne is also coordinating with other TXSG components like the Galveston Medical Response Group, for Shriners. "Giving a toy to a child who is not expecting it, during their time in the hospital," said Towne, "is seeing a little joyfulness. It's worth their time (along with his wife) in purchasing and collecting toys."