Anna Klug shows an application for the Toys for Tots Program. The program provides toys and other essentials for needy families across Malheur County. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – She’s a longtime Malheur County resident who helps educate children from low-income families.

The U.S. Marine Corps is considered one of the world’s premier fighting forces, built to win battles and deployed to combat hotspots around the world.

At first glance Anna Klug and the Marines may seem very far apart in terms of experience and perception, but they share a common mission during the holidays.

For the past six years Klug, the on-site coordinator for the Malheur County Childhood Development Center, and the Marines worked together to provide gifts for local children as part of the Toys for Tots Program.

The program, created in 1947 by the Marines, furnishes toys for needy families across the nation. The development center serves local pre-school children from low-income families. 

“We serve the poorest of the poor,” said Klug.

“I’ve had families break down in tears and say, ‘I couldn’t have bought this for my kids.’ So, it means a lot for families. For some families, it is the only thing under the tree,” said Klug.

Klug said she is proud of the program.

“It is just so nice to be able to help families in a way when it can be so depressing for some and help them see a little light,” said Klug.

That is why, she said, the collaboration with the Toys for Tots Program is important locally.

“Toys for Tots is very accepting of us and knowing there are families in need,” said Klug.

To participate, interested families must apply and meet certain standards related to income.

 “We get all the applications and put them on a spread sheet. We then send the spreadsheet to the Marines. We take the original (applications) to Boise and give them to the Marines and they fill the bags,” said Klug.

The toys for Malheur County are then collected and Klug and development center employees pick them up.

The need locally for toys at Christmas is acute, said Klug. For example, this year the program furnished toys to nearly 400 children in Malheur County.

Also, this year, Edge Performance Sports in Ontario, provided a trailer to the development center to pick up the toys in Boise, said Klug.

The Toys for Tots program utilizes toy donations and also buys some toys, said U.S. Marine Sgt. Devin Zeballos of Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, at Gowen Field. His company coordinates the program across 13 counties in southwestern Idaho and Malheur County.

“Last year we helped out nearly 16,000 kids. This year we are trying to go further. As our local community grows, so does the need,” said Zeballos.

Once the bags of toys arrive at the development center in Vale they are stored in an empty classroom. At some point this week, Klug said, parents will come by the development center and pick up the toys. 

Instead, each child receives one big gift and several smaller items, said Klug. 

For example, she said, a boy might receive a Lego set while a girl gets a beading kit to make necklaces and bracelets. Each child also receives a stuffed animal and two books. 

“The bags are overflowing,” said Klug.

Many of the families that take part in the Toys for Tots program, said Klug, are already on a thin financial line. The program makes a difference between gifts or no gifts at Christmas, said Klug. 

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.