How one veteran 'instigator' launches toy drive for kids

 
 
Updated 10/10/2018 12:38 PM
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  • Members of the Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80 gather in October 2017 with members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve 2nd Battalion 24th Marines based in Chicago to deliver fundraising proceeds of $5,000 for Toys for Tots.

    Members of the Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80 gather in October 2017 with members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve 2nd Battalion 24th Marines based in Chicago to deliver fundraising proceeds of $5,000 for Toys for Tots. Courtesy of Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80

  • Hoffman Estates Marine veteran Don Stone receives an award from Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80. Stone plans the detachment's annual kickoff dinner to support Toys for Tots.

    Hoffman Estates Marine veteran Don Stone receives an award from Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80. Stone plans the detachment's annual kickoff dinner to support Toys for Tots. Courtesy of Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80

  • Hoffman Estates Marines veteran Don Stone, left, supports Toys for Tots by planning a kickoff dinner each year hosted by Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80 and buying toys he would have enjoyed to donate.

    Hoffman Estates Marines veteran Don Stone, left, supports Toys for Tots by planning a kickoff dinner each year hosted by Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80 and buying toys he would have enjoyed to donate. Courtesy of Northwest Suburban Marine Corps League Detachment 80

Don Stone has at least two things in common with Santa Claus: Both deliver toys and both like to stay in the background.

The Marine veteran from Hoffman Estates has coordinated the Toys for Tots Kickoff Dinner for Northwest Suburban Detachment 80 of the Marine Corps League for the past few years. That makes him a deliverer of toys because of a chain reaction the event starts.

The fundraiser generates donations that will be used to buy toys, which then will be transported to a sorting station staffed by a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve unit in Chicago, which then will be donated to select nonprofit organizations, which then will distribute them to kids in need.

The dinner has raised $5,000 in each of the past two years.

"Proceeds go directly to Toys for Tots, which ultimately helps children in all kinds of situations who would otherwise probably have no toy around the holidays," said Mike Huttner, commandant of Arlington Heights-based Detachment 80.

The 73-year-old Stone has a knack for shopping and searching for things his younger self would have adored.

"I just get something that I think I might have played with," he says.

The Santa gene runs strong with Stone. Yet despite his leadership of the Toys for Tots Kickoff Dinner, his fellow detachment members had to search high and low for a photo of him in action, proving just how far this volunteer stays from the spotlight.

"I try to hide," he says. "I try to be an instigator."

The former Marine radio repairman is back at his instigating ways this year, planning a dinner set for Friday that will launch the season of giving that is the annual Toys for Tots drive.

Although it's October and Toys for Tots culminates with distributions in the days leading to Christmas, Stone said there's value in getting the public excited about helping children as early as possible.

Donation boxes will start dotting the suburbs in November as detachments coordinate their own collection efforts. But people like Stone have been working for much longer to make sure no kid goes without a toy.

When Toys for Tots is on shoppers' minds as they check off their own gift lists, whether in stores or online, Stone says they're more likely to choose an extra toy or two to make sure all kids get presents.

Stone, who served 20 years in the Marine Corps, was a Toys "R" Us loyalist who said he misses the chain that helped many a shopper find something fun for a deserving kid. But he forges ahead.

"You still have your big-box stores," he says.

In Arlington Heights on Friday night, between 250 and 300 people are expected to gather for the dinner Stone and other volunteers have planned to hear speeches about the value of Toys for Tots and to celebrate the joy the program brings.

Stone, who said he got involved with the program about five years ago in the wake of his wife's death, says happiness is the endgame. And he can't think of much that brings more happiness than a new toy.

Toys for Tots collects new, unwrapped toys. To find toy drop-off sites listed by city, including dates, hours and contact information, visit https://chicago-il.toysfortots.org/local-coordinator-sites/lco-sites/donate-toys.aspx or contact a local Marine Corps League detachment.

• Do you know of veterans helping other veterans, doing good things for their community or who have an interesting story to tell? Share your story at veterans@dailyherald.com.

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