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Operation Toy Soldier

Written By Maisie Petchey

Christmas is upon us, and many wonder how to afford a memorable Christmas for their kids. With so many things to be concerned about financially, the pressures of parent performance at Christmas shouldn’t be one of them. 

For enlisted ranks whose years in service are at most ten years, the average pay is less than $40,000 per year. The challenges this puts on families have always been recognized but were made even more relevant during the deployments of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

During deployments, spouse leadership played an integral part in trying to keep families together through the stress of deployment. Kim Garrett, the wife of an Army Major, recognized two main family stressors: back-to-school and Christmas.

Kim, who served as the Family Assistance Center Manager at the Department of Defense and served within the Georgia National Guard Family Program of the 48th Infantry Brigade, began working on a way to help ease these stressors for deployed soldiers and their families during these two crucial times of the year.

It was a conversation between Mrs. Garrett and Veterans Funeral Care Founder and President Jim Rudolph that ultimately became Operation Toy Soldier.

When Jim was made aware that military kids in this country were not getting presents at Christmas, he made it his mission. He knew his customers would donate toys, and before he knew it, his mission had spread throughout the country through his funeral director connections, namely Tim and Frankie Stewart with Tim Stewart Funeral Home in Georgia, who ultimately became members of Veterans Funeral Care in 2010.

In the first year of Operation Toy Soldier, Frankie and his team placed 55-gallon drums in his four funeral homes in four different cities. When the drums were filled, he delivered them to Mrs. Garrett, who, with the help of other officers’ wives, distributed the toys to spouses of all service branches. 

Operation Toy Soldier has grown to be an incredible movement designed to increase awareness and community involvement. The program has become a nationwide initiative by Veterans Funeral Care to provide toys to the children of deployed and non-deployed soldiers. 

The program is here to support children of the fallen as well. 

At the beginning of the program, Operation Toy Soldier donation locations were set up for toy donations only. It became relevant that many wanted to donate money instead of actual toys. This led to the creating of a Florida Non-Profit Organization that accepts monetary donations for the purchase of needed toys and supplies for kids. 

The program isn’t just for small children. Families with pre-teens can also benefit from gift card donations for the older kids. 

With inflation and cost of living increases, the need continues to grow in the Greater Tampa area. Veterans Funeral Services in Clearwater, Florida, has held a live nativity with special guests, Santa and Mrs. Clause, for the past two years to fundraise for Operation Toy Soldier. Visitors are greeted with toys and hot chocolate.  

If you are interested in donating to Operation Toy Soldier, you can send a check to: Operation Toy Soldier, P.O. Box 4122, Bay Pines, FL 33744.

To drop off toy donations, please visit OperationToySoldier.com for local and nationwide donation locations.

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