Toys for Tots plans a year-round kids’ literacy program

For 61 years, Toys for Tots has delivered Christmas presents to millions of needy children across the nation. Now, the Virginia-based charity is opening a new chapter in its mission with the launch of a year-round children’s literacy program.

The national charity, run by the Marines, is to announce the Toys for Tots Literacy Program today. The group will collect books and deliver them to the country’s most disadvantaged children in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and youth illiteracy.

“Over the years, Toys for Tots of course has worked hard to deliver a message of hope to disadvantaged children at Christmastime with a toy,” said Lt. Gen. Pete Osman, president and chief executive of Toys for Tots. “But this is a way to expand on that.”

Osman said the charity will raise money to buy books and help fund literacy programs at libraries, schools and nonprofit organizations nationwide.

“The Marine Corps is not in the business of teaching literacy, but we can provide the tools to do that,” Osman said.

Toys for Tots will run a “Buck a Book” fundraising drive, collecting $1 donations at UPS Store franchises. Scholastic, which publishes children’s books, will offer a selection of age-appropriate titles to the charity at a cost of $1 each. The San Diego-based UPS Store will pay the overhead costs of the program, Osman said.

“We can guarantee the public that 100 percent of what they’re giving is going to go into buying the books and other tools for the program,” Osman said.

Money donated in communities will be spent on children in those communities, said Rich Hallabrin, spokesman for UPS Store.

“Every dollar will actually put a book into the hands of a needy child in the country,” Hallabrin said. “Literacy is an important issue in our country, and when you look at the research and statistics that have been done, the trends are not encouraging.”

One in three fourth-graders in the United States cannot read at basic grade level, according to Toys for Tots. The charity also reports that nearly 12.8 million children across the country live in poverty.

Toys for Tots is based at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. With $222 million in contributions last year, it is one of the nation’s largest and best-known charities.

In 2006, the group delivered nearly 20 million toys in communities across the country. Osman said the charity will continue its toy drive.

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