For the third year in a row, troopers with the Georgia State Patrol from across the state have teamed up with members of the Marine Corps Reserve to make Christmas much brighter for thousands of underprivileged children.
Again this year, the joint effort has been most successful, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Johnson, the commander of the Georgia State Patrol post in Grovetown.
Working together, Marines and troopers at the GSP Post No. 25 in neighboring Columbia County collected 1,300 new toys for needy children this year in several counties, including McDuffie.
The group also raised $3,000 to help buy more toys.
"It's been a great combination, us (troopers) and the Marines teaming up to do something as special as the Toys for Tots program is in this area," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnson. "We've established a real unique partnership. We've gotten to know several of them, and they've gotten to know several of us."
The toys collected locally during the 2010 Toys for Tots campaign came through drives held at Walmart stores in Thomson, Grovetown and Evans.
"We really enjoyed being a part of this again this year," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnson. "It's nice to know that what we're doing will bring a lot of smiles to the faces of a lot of boys and girls less fortunate than many children in this area. The No. 1 reason we all do what we do is for children.
"We're all fortunate because we're blessed with jobs and we can provide gifts for our children. Some people simply aren't able to do that because they are out of work or don't make enough money to buy anything extra."
During the three years that troopers have helped with this project, Sgt. Johnson said, it has warmed their hearts to know that they are making a difference in the lives of others.
"That's the real blessing we all get from this," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnson. "Why wouldn't we want to be a part of something that touches us like this program does?"
He said that he and others could see a transformation in those who gave.
"Some of those that bought toys and placed them into the collection boxes didn't look like they could afford to do anything extra, but they found a way," he said. "It just proves that the Christmas season is really about giving, as opposed to receiving."
The troopers' statewide goal was to collect 10,000 new toys this year. As of Friday, troopers who make up Troop E, including the Grovetown post, had raised between 3,500 and 4,000 toys. The local post had raised the most of the five posts within Troop E.
"We're very grateful that this project went as well as it did this year," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnson, noting that he would like to thank Senior Trooper Tommy Crafton, Trooper First Class Ben Rollins and Sgt. Herbert Craven, with the patrol's aviation division, for spearheading this year's program.
"They made this project a priority. All three of them put a lot of time into it. They even worked in the cold and the rain. They've all got huge hearts."