JOSHUA TREE — Hundreds of families, most from the Morongo Basin but at least one from as far away as Moreno Valley, gathered on the Hi-Desert Medical Center campus to receive early Christmas presents.
The Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program on board the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center partnered with the medical center to hand out toys to about 1,000 families at the Helen Gray Education Center on the medical center campus during a day-long event Saturday, Dec. 1.
Residents who had previously signed up to receive toys began lining up in front of the center well before the 9 a.m. beginning of the event, the line stretched away from the center’s front door and west, past a a group of medical offices.
Sierra Rivers of Landers was one of the first in line, having arrived there at about 7. She said she was hoping to get something for her youngest son, he is 16.
She added that she also came to the toy giveaway last year.
Capt. Chris Silva, a 14-year Marine Corps veteran, kept watch over the highly-efficient operation inside the center.
After signing in at a table in the lobby, families were sent to a Disneylandesque serpentine line to wait until they got to another desk where they handed in a list of their children’s ages and genders.
That list was passed to a group of young Marine volunteers who filled large plastic bags with toys from boxes labeled by age and gender before bringing the bags out and delivering them to waiting families.
One of the Marines filling bags was Private Noah Locklear, from North Carolina, who has been a member of the Marine Corps since June.
“My dad is a Marine,” he said.
“I love seeing the joy it brings to get something,” he said of his involvement with the giveaway.
Each family was also given a chance to find winning orange ping pong balls inside a trash can otherwise filled with white balls in order to win one of three large items, including two children’s bicycles.
Silva noted that 500 to 1,000 families were signed up to receive toys and would do so at the center until 2 p.m.
After that, he added, families who had not signed up would be given a chance to receive Christmas presents.
“It pays to sign up,” he said.
Three more toy distributions, he said, will be held before Christmas, in Indio, Palm Springs and San Bernardino.
The first person to get signed in was Dolly Gibson, who came from Moreno Valley to get presents for the four grandchildren, age 15 to 9, that she is raising.
She admitted that she was sent to the Morongo Basin after getting a bit confused while signing up online.
“I’ve never been out here before,” she said.
Amber Rieger, with son Jaxson, who is almost 2, came from Indian Cove and found out about the toy giveaway after searching on Google.