Kadena’s Play Comforts event gives away 1,600 toys to military children
The sound of hundreds of children’s voices wafts through the doors of the gymnasium at the Kadena Teen Center, an audible testament to the excitement that bounces from child to child as they take to the floor, dancing and chanting to old and new school favorites such as “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and “Gangnam Style.”
As children and even adults sing along and demonstrate the dance moves for the “Y.M.C.A.,” volunteers, parents, Kadena Youth Programs staff, and representatives from the Toy Industry Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America stand by, ready to hand out over 1,600 toys to the military children present.
While other organizations may contribute by providing necessities like clothing, food, and shelter, Play Comforts events like the one held at the Teen Center on 1 November provide something just as crucial to military children: toys.
“Other organizations provide food, shelter, and clothing for military families, but the Toy Industry Foundation realized that play is an important factor and can be a distraction from the daily things military kids deal with,” Dion Bass, Kadena Teen Center chief, said.
For three years the Toy Industry Foundation has paired with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to provide toys to children from all branches of military service – Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard – through their Play Comforts events.
“The toy industry is in the business of making kids happy,” Jean Butler, Toy Industry Foundation executive director, said. “We thought what better way to alleviate all the stress and say thank you than with a toy.”
Not only do the toys bring smiles and joy to the children’s faces, but they also help parents whose spouses are currently deployed, away on TDY, or even just busy with work. Cynthia Tygrett, whose husband is currently deployed, sat in the bleachers with her children, 4-year-old Londyn and 9-month-old Embry, waiting for the toy giveaway to begin.
“It’s really nice,” Tygrett said. “It gives the kids something to look forward to.”
Even before the event began, Londyn had her eyes set on a big pink shopping cart full of plastic grocery items. Both mom and daughter were equally ecstatic as she managed to scoop up the cart, which was packaged in a box just as big as she was, and successfully pulled it over to where her mom sat. Even little Embry received a toy of her own to take home.
Thanks to 23 different American companies, there were more than enough toys to be handed out at the event. Each table was filled to the brim with items such as Rubik’s Cubes, stuffed Sesame Street characters, board games from Hasbro, Ninjago sets from LEGO, Radio Flyer scooters, and Disney toys from Mattel.
“We really strive to provide a nice variety for the kids,” Butler said, describing how the Toy Industry Foundation conducts a demographic study at each base beforehand to ensure enough toys are provided for each age group and boys and girls alike.
“Heading into the holiday season it’s great to see large companies giving back to the community and setting an example for our youth that you don’t have to give something expensive or money – it can just be something as simple as a toy to brighten someone’s day,” Bass said.
“Their support of military families means a lot to every person here,” Col. Michael Borgert, 18th Force Support Squadron commander, said. “Military supporters are very good at acknowledging the sacrifices of our military members but we also ask a lot of our families and many times their sacrifices aren’t given the same recognition. That’s what makes this Play Comforts event so special; it is designed to recognize the unique sacrifices of military youth and provide opportunities to play in an attempt to keep fun and a sense of normalcy in their lives.”
Each year, Play Comforts aims to host a live event at five different bases, each one representing a different branch of military service, plus toy giveaways at 35 additional bases. This month’s event at Kadena was the very first time a live event was held in Asia, and everyone involved was thrilled to see how excited the children and parents who attended were.
“It’s overwhelming – people thought about us and our kids!” Syreeta Wilson, mother of Zachary, Brooklyn, and Taylor, and whose husband is currently deployed, exclaimed.
“The Toy Industry Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of America have brought a tremendous amount of joy to our Kadena families today,” Daniel Bell, 18th Force Support Squadron deputy director, said. “The turnout and appreciation by the families has been overwhelming.”
“I just love the noise,” Ed Brown, Regional Service director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said. “I look forward to many more of these.”
“We had a great high-energy crowd here today,” Col. Borgert said. “There are a bunch of children and parents walking around with huge smiles on their faces because of the Play Comforts event.”
Parents and children weren’t the only ones whose smiles could be seen across the gymnasium. As over 10 volunteers at each table assisted children in selecting their toys, smiles spread across their faces as well and some like Tech. Sgt. Yasmine Redmond of the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron even took to the gym floor to dance with the children.
“It’s exciting to be able to give,” Airman 1st Class Kris Beckwith, a member of Kadena’s Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight, said as he prepared to hand out toys.
“I’m having a lot of fun and am glad to see the kids enjoying themselves,” Staff Sgt. Fred Gallop, a member of Kadena’s Mental Health Flight, added.
Staff from Kadena’s Teen and Youth Centers, as well as Child Development Centers and School Age Program, were also swept into the spirit of giving as their children and teens rushed to the tables laden with hundreds of toys.
“Giving toys away is always fun because the kids are always really appreciative,” Teresa Witschen, Youth Programs chief, said. “It keeps us grounded and reminds us why we’re here.”
As toys were grabbed up, shown off to friends and parents, and even shoved into backpacks that were about two sizes smaller than the toy itself, every person in the gymnasium could be seen with a large grin on their face. That’s what giving is about: finding fulfillment in another’s excitement and joy. For members of the 18th Force Support Squadron, it was yet another way in which they were able to make the lives of those stationed at Kadena better.
“I can safely say both the Toy Industry Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America helped us carry out the FSS mission of taking care of people,” Col. Borgert said. “They definitely made people’s lives better today…it’s what they do!”