At Toys for Tots, located in Everett’s Foundation Church, Mary Butler (facing) checks in families and asks questions that will help her help them. One client holds a small child as she waits while Butler and other volunteers get ready to choose just the right gifts from a huge selection stored out of sight. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

At Toys for Tots, located in Everett’s Foundation Church, Mary Butler (facing) checks in families and asks questions that will help her help them. One client holds a small child as she waits while Butler and other volunteers get ready to choose just the right gifts from a huge selection stored out of sight. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Baby gifts to Buzz Lightyear, Toys for Tots brings kids joy

Mary Butler, who has helped for 13 years, says the local chapter serves some 52,000 children a year.

There’s nothing unlucky about this Friday the 13th for Mary Butler. It’s the day workers from big companies, Boeing and Edward Jones among them, are expected to play Santa’s helpers by delivering gifts to the local Toys for Tots.

“As you look around here, you can see — this community is so incredibly gracious to us. We have 85 businesses collecting for us,” said Butler, 62, the area coordinator for Toys for Tots in Snohomish County.

For her 13th holiday season, the Marysville woman is overseeing the program here. Part of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program, the local effort is headquartered at Foundation Church, located in the former National Guard Armory on Oakes Avenue.

On Thursday, in the building where Guard units once held drills, Butler checked in clients who had completed online applications. She called each person by first name, made sure they had identification and other proof of eligibility, then asked them to share more about their children — not just age and gender, but what the child likes.

With a “shopping” list and big plastic bag in hand, Butler went behind a curtain to fulfill her mission, finding the perfect gifts. Parents waited in the church’s welcome area for bags to be filled, while in the large curtained-off room packed with toys Butler was helped by volunteers Sharon Argle, Sabrina Spann and Nicole Oswald.

“I love to shop,” Butler said as she matched wishes with donated toys, which were divided by age and gender on tables around the room.

“Let’s do Paw Patrol,” Butler said, filling a bag for one little boy. “Give him a football, and let’s find something remote control,” she said, adding a snazzy toy car to another child’s presents.

In 2018, she said, Toys for Tots in Snohomish County provided gifts for 52,185 children, newborn to age 17. Many of those served are in foster care, Butler said, and Toys for Tots works with state agencies and a number of nonprofits.

Butler said each child receives two gifts, plus an arts and craft item. Each family gets an additional present, a game.

High-quality brand name toys of all sorts were piled on tables and lined up on the floor. There were Barbies and “Frozen” characters, scooters and batting tees, a Buzz Lightyear Blaster with glow-in-the-dark balls, a stand-up Darth Vader figure, and a mini-John Deere hayride tractor that makes animal sounds.

This year, Toys for Tots began distributing gifts Dec. 2. Applications, all online, are closed for this year, but a free day is scheduled for Dec. 21 — the last day this year — for those who missed appointments or weren’t served by other agencies. Sometimes, Butler said, schools and the Red Cross refer families to Toys for Tots.

“On a typical day, we provide gifts for 35 to 50 kids per hour — every day,” said Butler, who’s at the site 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week until the final day. Gifts aren’t only for those in poverty, she said, but for families with modest incomes who “work and work and work.”

She’s grateful for Foundation Church, which for the third season has given Toys for Tots space on its main floor for toy distribution and lots of storage room downstairs. In years past, Toys for Tots was located in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Old Guard Post 2100, nearby on Oakes Avenue.

The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a charitable wing of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, was launched in 1947 when reservists in Los Angeles set out to collect toys for 5,000 kids. The Toys for Tots logo, a jaunty red train, was designed in 1948 by Walt Disney.

Butler said she grew up “all over the world,” in an Air Force family. “It starts with the men and women who serve,” she said.

King Butler, her 63-year-old husband, was there to help Thursday. “His job, he’s my right hand, my left hand and both my legs,” quipped Mary Butler, the mother of three grown sons and a grandmother of 10.

“It’s a huge help,” said Arlington’s Jaimie Hoag, 31, whose children are 5, 4 and 3. She said it’s not difficult to get gifts for a baby or very young child, “but now that my oldest is in school, kids compare. They want the same things as their friends.”

Speaking of her children, and for many gift recipients, Hoag said, “I can get them their needs. Toys for Tots focuses on their wants.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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