A cheerful and generous presence with a mission of giving gifts to children showed up alongside the Washington Commanders Charitable Foundation in the DMV area.
No, it wasn't Santa Claus. It was the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation doing what they've done best for over 30 years.
"Despite the hardships faced by many in today's economy, the spirit of giving prevailed, and witnessing the community come together to support those in need was truly heartwarming," the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation said.
The Commanders and Toys for Tots aren't new partners, but the relationship has taken on an increased vigor this year. In August, the Washington Commanders Charitable Foundation announced a leveled-up collaboration with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation in order to broaden the reach and deepen the impact of donation and toy collection efforts for local families. During 2023's Season of Giving, three special events -- featuring helping hands from Washington Legends, local government and other partners -- came to life in powerful and exciting ways thanks to Toys for Tots.
The first of these took place on Dec. 1 as Washington Legends, Jackie Taylor, the Prince George's County Police Department and volunteers from the Commanders came together to organize the Toys for Tots warehouse ahead of their busiest time of the year.
"What we're here to do is make sure we've got a lot of happy kids on Christmas Day," Super Bowl champion Brian Mitchell said at the event. "It's probably one of the greatest things to do because I've been blessed, and I think a lot of people in this room have been blessed. We just want to be a blessing to somebody else."
Watching as so many jumped into give their time brought a smile to the face of Dawn Stem, Prince George's County local coordinator for Toys for Tots.
"I'm so excited to be out here today. We have a lot of organizations coming together in support of all the families around Prince George's County," Stem said. "This is such a proud moment because there are so many families that depend on this, and we work so hard each and every year to make sure their holidays are fantastic."
The day at the warehouse was followed up by a gameday collaboration on Dec. 3 as the Commanders took on the Miami Dolphins at FedExField. As fans poured in for the Week 13 matchup, over 60 marines stood outside collecting new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations totaling over $31,000. For season ticket member Jay Nash, the sight of these uniformed marines conjured up feelings of honor and memories of his late dad, and he couldn't have been prouder to donate on the day.
"I am so proud and honored that my favorite football team for the past 40 years supported such a great event and gave back to the community," Nash said. "My father [who was a marine] passed away and my donation to the toy drive was in his memory. He always took time to support events for kids."
In the final event of December, happiness filled the Commanders' stadium as hundreds of kids got to pick out their favorite games, stuffed animals and more at the team's highly anticipated toy giveaway, presented by United Airlines. Recognizing the need this holiday season, the Commanders partnered with community groups to identify youth who would most benefit from the event.
"There's nothing greater than a smile bringing that gift to a young child on days like these," Prince George's County Chief of Police said while helping to pass out toys.
Lots of families who needed a boost during the holidays were given one with the help of the Commanders Charitable Foundation and Toys for Tots via this year's trio of giveback initiatives. A bow may have been put on December, but this collaboration is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
"Football has a special magical appeal to children, especially the NFL. The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation is grateful to the Commanders for helping us also create some magic, as well as joy and hope, for economically disadvantaged children," the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation said. "Together, we are making a difference in the precious lives of children."