(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden sorted gifts at a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots event in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday to celebrate the charity program’s 75th anniversary.
“For 75 years, you brought joy and laughter and smiles to families all across this country. Last year alone you collected 22 million toys for more than 8 million children, giving Santa a run for his money,” President Biden said. “But unlike Santa, you’re not wearing big red suits. You don’t travel the world in just one night. Instead, you wear a dress, blues and army greens and, as Marines soldiers, sailors, you stand watch around the world every single night.”
The Bidens joined spouses of senior Department of Defense and local military children at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in the Toys for Tots hallmark of sorting unwrapped, donated gifts by age for distribution to families in need.
Monday’s event was part of the first lady’s Joining Forces initiative to help military families.
In brief remarks in the bustling hall, the president praised service members for their role as the “spine of our nation,” as well as their family members back home, who also serve the country by supporting their loved ones, he said, which can be especially difficult during the holidays.
Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 after he served overseas with the National Guard, and the president said on Monday that understands this time of year can be “extra tough” for families like those present.
“When our son Beau was deployed in Iraq for a year, it was hard to look at that empty seat at the dinner table every night, particularly in the holidays. And for our granddaughters and grandson, they were the same age as many of you here today, it was even harder not to have their dad around Christmas morning,” he said.
“I want to tell you what I told them: You have to keep brave — you have to be brave — even when your mommies and daddies are far away, they are so proud of you,” he added. “And I’m so proud of you, as your president.”
The first lady participated in the annual drive at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall last year as well. She also gave brief remarks on Monday but apologized for having laryngitis and invited a boy, Adam, on stage to help her read a passage from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
At one point, the longtime teacher engaged the children with a guessing game, asking them how many Christmas trees they thought were in the White House.
“You’re all pretty close, because we have 77 trees in the White House,” she said.
“If there’s one group of kids who understand that the holidays are about more than what’s under the tree, it’s you — all of you — our military children,” the first lady said. “And you understand that gifts that mean the most can’t be the ones held in our hands.”
Since 1947, the Toys for Tots program has seen Marines and volunteers distribute more than 627 million toys to over 281 million children, according to the charity.
Local Toys for Tots campaigns are conducted annually from October through December in over 800 communities across the county.
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