Story By: WO1 David Brown, TXSG HQ Ass’t PAO
AUSTIN, Texas -- This past Christmas, one of the most popular and best-known outreach programs of the Texas State Guard reached a new benchmark. During the 2019 season, the Texas State Guard (TXSG) Toy Drive collected over 100,000 toys, which brought a smile to the faces of hospitalized and homeless children across the Lone Star State.
Sgt. First Class John Gately, the Young Heroes of the Guard Toy Drive Coordinator for the last 6 years, reports that the final tally by Christmas Day was 104,604 toys, with a retail value of over $500,000. Since its inception in 2009, Young Heroes of the Guard has collected and distributed more than 349,000 toys.
This is an all-time record for the 11-year-old project, founded by TXSG Chaplains. The initial success of the Toy Drive in North Texas captured the attention – and the imagination – of officials at TXSG Headquarters, who, for Christmas 2014, expanded the program statewide. Last Christmas, children’s’ hospitals and shelters from Galveston to El Paso received toys collected through this program.
Making this effort even more remarkable is the enormous amount of logistical support work put in by individual citizen-Soldiers of the TXSG. In addition to their routine Guard duties and their obligations to their own jobs and families, some organizers, such as Lt. Steven Coder of Godley, Texas, put in six to eight hours a day from mid-October up to Christmas Eve. Lt. Coder’s work included organizing the many moving pieces that make such a project successful.
“When you give that child a toy and you watch her face light up”, Coder says, “you’ll understand why we do it. This toy drive brings such joy—not just to the kids, but to everyone involved, and it lasts long after the holidays.”
More recently, the program has developed a partnership with the retail store “fiveBelow working together to bring hope and joy to Texas communities. For the third year in a row, members of the TXSG took up positions outside “fiveBelow ” stores across Texas, asking shoppers to make a toy donation on their way out. Other members of the TXSG, including their families and supporters in the community, set up collection boxes outside businesses and churches. Hess Corporation, the energy company with offices in Houston, donated 3,000 of its famous toy trucks to the effort.
In early December, the toys were gathered at local armories, sorted into age groups, and distributed to hospitals and shelters across Texas.
When asked, will it be possible to match the spectacular success of the 2019 TXSG Toy Drive next December?
Coder sighs and cracks a knowing smile. “We’re already getting to work on that!”