GREAT FALLS- Since 1947, the United States Marine Corps has been involved in Toys for Tots, an annual program that collects toys for less fortunate families.
However, for one marine in Helena, the program means much more.
“Toys for Tots is a program of the heart,” Howard Mears says, the Helena Toys for Tots Coordinator.
Howard Mears has volunteered with Toys for Tots over the past 8 years, and without him, the program in Helena wouldn't even exist.
They were looking for a new coordinator and they say, we need one or we'll have to close the program down. So I sent them an e-mail and said if you can't find anyone, I’ll do it. Well guess what... That ended it right there and I became the coordinator at that point in time,” Mears laughed.
As coordinator, Mears is in charge of things like marketing, organizing collection points, and recruiting volunteers.
However, at the end of the day, his main goal is putting a smile on a child's face.
“We help children at Christmas time. I can't imagine having... waking up on Christmas morning and not having Christmas toys or presents under the tree,” Mears says.
Thankfully, he isn't the only one to feel this way.
“Helena is an extremely generous community. It is not unusual for us, many times during the day, to have parents that are in tears because of the generosity that they experience,” Mears explains.
Last year, Toys for Tots in Helena was able to give away 15,000 toys.
To break it down even further, that's 451 families and 2,100 kids who woke up with presents under the tree; all because of some generosity.
Generosity… it’s a word that takes on many different forms.
For Mears, this program has allowed him to see what the word truly means.
“My first year here, as we were receiving checks in the mail in our post office box, i noticed that the most frequent check that we received was a 5 dollar check; and generally speaking it was from a widow. They didn't have a lot, but they were willing to share what they had with us so the kids would have a good Christmas,” Mears explains.
For him, its moments like this that make the long days worth it.
“The rewards--- it's just a lot of work. But we expect to do that and so it is not something that… I walk away everyday grateful for the fact that i get to do this job. I am just the symbol of what goes on; but what really happens here is community coming together for kids,” Mears explains further, “Every child deserves a little Christmas.”
Vietnam veteran, Toys for Tots Coordinator, symbol, and now, a Montana Treasure.