Toys for Tots returns to Barnwell Co.

A local veterans organization and a Bamberg County family are teaming up to provide toys for children this holiday season.

The Barnwell County Leathernecks, a Marine Corps League chapter, is working with Deanna Berry of Denmark to bring the Marine Corps “Toys for Tots” to Barnwell and five area counties.

The Leathernecks have wanted to start a Toys for Tots project locally for a while, says Bud Bazemore and Nigel Abner, members of the Marine Corps League.

Berry, also a veteran, understands what it means to both parents and children to face a Christmas without gifts. “At one time I was a homeless veteran with two children,” said Berry. She served in the U.S. Army at Ft. Lennordwood, Missouri, but was given an honorable discharge after suffering spine and knee injuries.

Her young daughter, Shannie, became ill and Berry started an effort to determine the source of her critical illness and find a healing result. That effort is ongoing.

Since then Deanna married Patrick Berry, a former truck driver who is now disabled. “He supports everything we do,” said Deanna. The couple now has three children, two step-children and two “kinship care” children. (Foster parents are not paid by the state for care of kinship care children, explained Berry.)

Deanna and Patrick may not have traditional employment now but spend their time in a variety of humanitarian efforts.

One effort is “Saving Shannie”, a non-profit developed to find a cure for her daughter, said Berry.

Another organization is Denmark-Olar Citizens for Better Schools, which “gave me the privilege of knocking on doors”. That process allowed Berry to discover that many homes did not have the means to celebrate Christmas or provide gifts for the children.

Berry and her husband used some reserve money to purchase gifts to donate but quickly realized they couldn’t meet the need. They put out a call for help to a local television station. “Within seven hours of the first airing, we had over 1,000 toys,” Deanna recalled.

After that experience, Berry partnered with Toys for Tots to provide gifts in Bamberg County. More recently she learned that Barnwell County has not had a local coordinator in a number of years.

She was able to add Barnwell and Allendale counties to her region. At a national convention in September, she learned Edgefield and Hampton counties were not covered. Her region again expanded.

Working with the Marine Corps League in Barnwell County and the Department of Social Services, a local Toys for Tots effort is now underway.

Needy families can apply for sponsorship at the DSS every Wednesday in November – Nov. 8, 15, 22 and 29 – between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eligible children are aged from birth to 15 years old. The deadline for applications is December 1.

No clothes are accepted. “We want solely toys,” said Berry.

“Our goal is to get 40,000 toys over the five counties,” she said. “Whatever is raised in a county are designated for that county.”

Funds are turned over to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots organization where it is accounted for and redistributed to the designated county. “We are audited annually and every penny is accounted for,” said Berry. “We are a 501C-3, IRS-approved charity.”

“We want to make it a friendly competition between the counties. In January, at a thank-you gala, we plan to present the Iwo Jima Award – the highest award a citizen can receive from the U.S. Marine Corps,” she said.

Berry said approved applications will allow parents to come to a distribution site that will be set up like a store. Each family will have a designated date and time to come “shop” for their own children. Volunteers will assist the parents/guardians to make sure they receive the age-appropriate gifts.

Additionally, there will be an area where “stocking stuffers” can be acquired. Volunteers will also be on hand to wrap the gifts selected.

People wishing to donate should select toys priced at $30 or under. Bicycles are the exception to the rule, she said.

“We don’t accept gift cards or cash,” she said. “Only personal or business checks or money orders will be accepted,” she said.

Donations can also be made on a secure website and donors are reminded to note they want to allocate their funds to the designated county of their choice.

“One hundred percent of what we raise goes to toys. No one is paid,” said Berry.

The website is denmark-sc.toysfortots.org for Bamberg, Allendale, Barnwell, Edgefield and Hampton counties.

Donations can also be mailed to: U.S. Marine Corps Campaign, P.O. Box 292, Denmark, SC 29042. Berry can be reached by calling (803) 672-0014 or by email at Babtoys4tots@gmail.com.