Mark Longoria hugs a volunteer with the Victoria Police Department at the Toys for Tots kick off breakfast.

Mark Longoria hugs a volunteer with the Victoria Police Department at the Toys for Tots kickoff breakfast.

About a dozen people gathered for breakfast at Golden Corral in Victoria on Friday at 8 a.m. to kick off the Marine Toys for Tots drive.

In 2005, Mark Longoria took over the Marine Toys for Tots drive in the Crossroads because the Marine volunteers planned to retire and the program was going to end.

“At that time, there were 1,000 kids,” Longoria said. “They gave me the contacts, told me what to do, gave me a back stock of toys, and it’s been building and building ever since.”

Last year, the toy drive served 12,509 children with about 38,000 toys. Generally, each child gets two gifts and a stocking stuffer. So far this year, with the pandemic and the resulting economic climate, donations have not been coming in as they have in the past, Longoria said. This is in spite of a need that is expected to be even greater.

“No matter what, we want to make sure the kids have toys,” Longoria said. “We want to make Christmas special as best we can. It’s a joy and a passion, and we have a great team. The great part is that throughout the community, people have the passion like I do. They send checks, fill up the toy boxes and hold their own toy drives.”

Longoria said it takes a lot of community support to meet the needs of the children, and monetary donations are important.

“The children will wake up Christmas morning with smiles on their faces, and they will know someone cares for them,” Longoria said.

Becca Vasquez, the Toys for Tots warehouse coordinator, has been helping each holiday season since about 2012 when her husband lost his job, and they needed presents for their children.

“A friend showed me Toys for Tots, and I offered to volunteer because I felt bad for receiving help,” she said. “You meet amazing people.”

Celina Yoast also has volunteered since 2012. Along with Gary Moses, she hosts the distribution party when the families pick up the gifts.

“I love seeing the children’s faces. That’s the best part. And the parents’ faces, too. A weight is lifted off of them,” Yoast said. “Sometimes it’s highly emotional. They are so grateful.”

The distribution party is scheduled for Dec. 20 at the Victoria Community Center.

Joey Loya, the toy drive coordinator, said he has been involved with the toy drive for 20 years because he wants to help the children and give back to the community. He coordinates the volunteers at the toy drives at Walmart, H-E-B and Target, and he travels around picking up toys from the toy boxes around town.

“I make sure it runs smoothly,” he said. “I want to make sure the kids don’t go without gifts.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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