Story by: Capt. Martha Nigrelle
Posted On: December 21, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas - Santa’s Texas State Guard elves brought holiday cheer to the Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Dec. 19, 2015, as Staff Sgt. James “Damon” Williams, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment and a group of Texas State Guardsmen unloaded thousands of toys from trucks and proceeded to fill the hospital’s amphitheater with toys.
In 2009, the Texas State Guard started the Young Heroes of the Guard program, with the hopes of collecting enough toys to distribute to every pediatric patient in every children’s hospital in Texas during the Christmas season, and leave a year’s worth of toys behind.
That first year, they collected more than 2,000 toys and by 2014, they collected almost 23,000 toys across the state.
This year, Williams leading the toy drive efforts for his battalion, just one of the many units participating in the State Guard’s toy drive, collected more than 25,000 toys.
“We want to help everyone in need,” said Williams.
Starting in March, Williams coordinated a three-prong approach to collecting toys.
“I start my toy drive operations in March,” said Williams. “My goal is to submit the application for support the day they are first accepting letters so that my request is the first one on the pile and hopefully the first one to be considered.”
Williams and his team of State Guard volunteers work with local companies and major corporations to coordinate donations until October.
“Then we deploy toy drive operations,” said Williams.
In true military fashion, Williams coordinates one team to man large donation boxes at designated drop off points, another team to stand outside major retail stores and advertise the toy drive and collect donations, and a third team to handle other donations.
“I have a calendar of all our operations to make it easy for soldiers to find dates and times that would be conducive for them to help,” said Williams.
After meeting the Battalion’s goal of 11,000 toys, Williams and his team decided to keep going.
“Staff Sgt. Williams took the lead for the battalion and just went with it,” said Lt. Col. Cendy Brister-Antley, commander of 1st Battalion. “You can give him something and he will run with it. He has contacts like you wouldn’t believe!”
For Williams the drive to bring joy to children staying in hospitals hits close to home.
“I spent time in the hospital as a child,” said Williams. “It was one of the most difficult times of my childhood. That’s what drives me, that memory of what it was like.”
Hospital staff members will give these toys to hospitalized children, siblings of hospitalized children and children of hospital patients throughout the entire year.
“Our goal is to give them enough toys to make it through the entire year,” said Williams.
Units are assigned to local hospitals. For 1st Battalion, that means Dell Children’s Hospital.
“Last year they got 6,000 toys and started running out in October,” said Williams. “That was our incentive to boost our toy collection.”
Meeting their original goal of 11,000, and then some, they should meet this goal.
The battalion delivered more than 10,000 toys to Dell Children’s Hospital and have given the remaining toys to State Guard units across Texas, to help support toy drive effort statewide.
“It was a planned operation,” said Brister-Antley. “To blow away the State Guard.”
Despite the large piles of toys and the competitive spirit of the unit to outdo last year’s numbers, being able to give back to the community and bring joy to children is what means the most to these guardsmen.
“We delivered more than 10,000 toys to Dell Children’s Hospital,” said Brister-Antley. “I saw pride in my Soldiers, pride in the accomplishment of giving back.”
For Williams, it’s about bringing joy to a child’s life.
“I had a large pink stuffed dog that one of the girls was eyeballing. I walked over to her and asked her if she could give the dog a good home. She grabbed it and seemed really happy,” said Williams. That’s why we do it – for the smiles and the happiness we can bring to the kids.
Next year, Williams said he hopes to collect 50,000 toys.
For more information on the Texas State Guard toy drive, please visit their website http://www.txsgtoydrive.org/. To see more photos from the toy drop off at Dell Children’s Hospital, Dec. 18, 2015, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasmilitaryforces/albums/72157662483102302.