Toys for Tots

Toys for Tots

Delivering hope to children at Christmastime & beyond

By Sonia Duggan

The holiday spirit has taken root across the nation as Santa’s elves ready for the upcoming season with a little help from a nonprofit started by the Marine Corps Reserve 76 years ago.

Toys for Tots, a nationwide community action program, has become a beacon of goodwill that transcends generations and brings joy to countless children.

In Collin County, Toys for Tots is not just a program; it’s a community-driven initiative supported by generous residents, sponsors and businesses in its 27 cities.

Coordinator Maria LeGall has worked for months — raising funds, securing sponsors and renting warehouse space — to store the influx of toys to prepare for another successful campaign. 

“I let people know there is a need here in Collin County,” Maria said passionately. “A lot of people think Collin County doesn’t need Toys for Tots, but Toys for Tots needs Collin County and Collin County needs Toys for Tots.”

The numbers of toys distributed certainly reflect the needs. Maria shared that

last year alone, Toys for Tots touched the lives of 16,251 children with a distribution of 38,789 toys. However, she said, the numbers ebb and flow according to the evolving needs of the community. 

The initial years of Collin County’s effort—2017-2018—were shaped by dedicated individuals, and at the forefront was Steve Deffibaugh, a Marine Corps League of Collin County member and its first coordinator. 

That first year the program surpassed expectations, distributing 31,000 toys to 12,000

“He [Steve] was the very first coordinator,” Maria said. “He did it the first two years and I met him during my first year volunteering.”

This is Maria’s fourth year as the coordinator, a role she reluctantly assumed during the pandemic. 

“They convinced me during the middle of COVID to be the coordinator,” she said. “Toys for Tots did not shut down during COVID. It stayed open and we wanted to make sure that the children had toys for Christmas.”

Maria’s connection to Toys for Tots runs deep, rooted in 20-plus years of volunteering, many alongside her husband, Raymond “Panther” LeGall, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, and their six children. 

“This is a family affair and we made sure the children volunteered for TFT,” Maria said.

Raymond has been involved with the program since his early days as a private in the Marine Corps. He now serves as the chapter’s event coordinator and works full time at Bell-Textron Helicopter.

“He was a coordinator even when he was in uniform back in the 90s in the Atlanta Metro area,” she said.

Raymond describes himself as a “servant leader who is very much inspired by serving others to make a difference in their lives,” adding his commitment to the program echoes the biblical principal of “iron sharpens iron.”

Today, their youngest daughter, Nicole McNear, coordinates all social media for the Collin County program from her home in Virginia. 

Raymond is proud of his wife and daughter’s involvement in the program.

“Their passion of giving unselfishly of themselves to make a difference in someone’s life makes me very humble and a very proud husband and dad.”

Tis the season

In a former storefront at 102 Fairview Station Parkway in Fairview Town Center, Maria and her team have been gearing up for the annual drive since Oct. 1. 

Working dutifully alongside Maria since assuming the coordinator role are two ex-Marines, both in their mid-70s, who she affectionately calls “Uncle Dan and Uncle Doug.”

Dan Smith is the Warehouse Manager and Doug Herd helps with setting up the warehouse, assembling bikes, delivering toy collection boxes and handing them out, if needed, when Dan or Maria cannot be at the warehouse.  

The official Collin County Toys for Tots website,, helps streamline the process, said Maria. Interested businesses can request to host a toy drop site, host a Toys for Tots event, request materials, sponsor promotions or request a toy through approved Toys for Tots organizations. 

The role of the coordinator not only involves fundraising and sponsorships, but it also involves collaboration with around 25-30 Collin County nonprofit organizations and churches early in the season that deal specifically with children. 

The age range of children served spans from zero to high school, said Maria, adding “as long as they’re in school, they’re going to get something from us.” 

Once approved, the organizations add the Toys for Tots logo to their website, host a registration event and give out information so families will know to go to them. 

“And that way they can vet families on our behalf,” she said, “because we lack the manpower. Everything we do is 100% volunteer — no one gets paid for it — not even me.”

Everything that they “do and raise” in Collin County stays in Collin County, Maria emphasized. 

“When I get money from donors, or when people do events and such, then I take that money and I go shopping for toys that I’m short of because there’s certain amount that I can spend,” she said. 

Because the foundation allocates a per toy budget, big ticket items like bicycles can’t be purchased. Maria said they rely heavily on the community and corporations.

As toys are collected in the warehouse, they are separated by age group and category. Then, once nonprofits collect the applications and have a list of needs, Maria said they give them the toys that they requested. Families would then visit the designated agency or church to collect the gifts, forming a personal connection between the community and those receiving the gifts.

The first week of December promises to be busy for the LeGalls and the volunteers. Maria said they work with Fox News, a sponsor of Toys for Tots, and Dec. 1-9 they have media events including a “Stuff the Bus” campaign off Hwy 121.

The annual VFW Post #2150 (McKinney) sponsored annual Toys for Tots motorcycle ride from Farmersville to Princeton to McKinney is set for Saturday, Dec. 2. 

“It is going to be a huge motorcycle ride,” Maria said. “They usually have anywhere between 300 to 500 motorcyclists ride and collect toys and money on Toys for Tots’ behalf.”

The first toy distribution date is Dec. 8 and the last collection date for pickups from toy drop locations is Dec. 15. 

Organized chaos ensues Dec. 11-18 — what Maria calls “Hell Week” at the warehouse. “Because that’s when boxes are going to be just rolling in and toys are going to be all over the place,” she said. “It’s fun and we try to make it fun. But by the time the day is over, our feet hurt, our backs hurt, but we still know at the end we’re doing awesome things.”

Once all pickups are completed, Maria makes sure leftover toys are distributed to Children’s Medical Center Plano to lessen the burden for parents with children in the hospital during the holidays. 

She also shared stories of families who, unbeknownst to the program, came to the warehouse seeking toys. In those cases, Maria said she sits down and talks to them, “and if we have toys in the warehouse, I make sure that they get toys.” 

It doesn’t end there. Maria said families will often send a picture on Christmas day or the day after Christmas “and it brings tears to my eyes every time when they know that  the toys came from us, even though they went to an organization, and that just makes me feel good.”

“Toys for Tots is just really a passion of mine,” she continued. “My birthday is Christmas Day…They say ‘you really are Santa Claus.’”

To donate online visit and select “Donate”

To volunteer, visit and select “Get Involved”

All volunteers must fill out the required form on the website and bring it when volunteering