KAILUA-KONA — Who does the Salvation Army call when it’s in need?
A few, good men and women, of course.
Such was the predicament Corp. Officer Lt. Raghel Santiago found herself in earlier this month when the nonprofit synonymous with providing for the less fortunate suddenly found it was in short supply itself.
Christmas time is always a time of year when calls for assistance increase, but this year those requests exceeded the Salvation Army’s inventory.
The Kona office simply didn’t have enough toys to give out to all who were asking.
“We had more applicants this year for Christmas than previous years,” Santiago said.
Usually, the Salvation Army fields 800 such requests, but this year, it received 1,400. Perhaps the spike was due to other service providers not distributing toy giveaways this year, she speculated, but regardless of the reason, she needed a solution.
So she called the United States Marines stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu.
Besides being tough, disciplined and defenders of freedom — or perhaps because of it — the Marines also hold a Toys for Tots drive every year beginning Oct. 1. Could the Marines help over here in Kona? she asked.
“I was being discrete, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said, recounting her original request of three boxes of toys.
A few phone calls later, and the Marines reached back out to her.
“We’ve decided to give you everything we have,” they told her.
So those three boxes turned into more than 30 boxes — “big boxes,” as Santiago described them. And on Dec. 18, around 15 Marines jumped aboard two Osprey aircraft and jumped the ocean to deliver thousands of toys to Kona.
“That was awesome,” Kona Salvation Army Thrift Store manager Wendy Fandell said of seeing the bounty arrive. “It filled the entire place.”
The effort was spearheaded by 1st Sgt. Jeremy Bland, 4th Force Reconnaissance Company. His team collected 2,600 gifts for Kona and the mission was a fun one for the Marines assigned the duty.
“Santa Claus isn’t a fat man in a red suit on a sleigh. He’s a Marine in an MV-22,” Bland joked in a press release on the modern day reindeer-like endeavor.
“This is the kind of work that we love to do,” added flight lead co-pilot, Capt. Casey Funk,VMM-268, MAG-24, who assisted in the delivery.
The Toys for Tots campaign in an annual tradition for the Marines.
In 2018, 36,300 toys were collected on Oahu, according the branch’s communications office. They were distributed to over 23,000 children throughout Hawaii. Nationwide, Marines and volunteers distributed 18.5 million toys to over seven million children-in-need.
This was the first time the program helped Kona’s Salvation Army, although Bland told Santiago that they’d love to help every year.
The gifts are sure to please kids with all types of interests, from racing cars, to arts and crafts goodies to items geared toward STEM projects.
“Just about anything you can think of,” 1st Lt. Bridget Glynn, in the Marines communication department, said.
With the help, the Salvation Army has met its need. It was able to donate gifts to everyone on its list, and then some, including other gift giving programs.
Besides the items themselves, the gifts represented so much more that purely presents. Stacked high in the Kona store after delivery, they symbolized the spirit of the season, joy, helping others, true aloha all wrapped into one.
“You could feel it when you walked in the room,” Fandell said.
And who else other than the few, the proud?
“The Marines came through,” Salvation Army volunteer Bill Lawrence said. “Big time.”