As part of his Marine duties, Sgt. Shane Larkin coordinates Toys for Tots for Suffolk County, a program that collects and distributes holiday toys for underprivileged children. Donated toys range in value from dollar items to new bicycles. This year, demand for toys is higher, Larkin says, but the program's budget has been slashed 40 percent and he's faced a "significant" cut in staff, so he's had to tap volunteers. By Friday, the program had served 50 organizations, but it has 165 more to serve before Christmas.
Originally from upstate, Larkin, 23, came to Long Island after serving seven months in Afghanistan. "I was happy to be back in my home state," he said. A year after starting with Toys for Tots, he's in charge of the program.
You're seeing demand increase?
We've got many more requests than last year. Our goal is 90,000 toys.
With staff and budget cuts, how do you make up for shortfalls?
The Marine veteran organization, which is called the Marine Corps League, has four detachments in Suffolk County that we work with, in Babylon, Huntington, Bay Shore and the East End. They've been assisting in the distribution of boxes, different events that we do and the collection of toys. Our reserve components are also volunteering; many of them also work full-time jobs.
How can those in need sign up for toys?
They go through social services. If they're not on social services, they can call our office phones, which are listed on our website, and we will be able to assist them.
Toys for Tots isn't your only job with the Marines, is it?
We're the active-duty component of a reserve unit, so our jobs are to take care of all the administrative needs of our reserve side: the training, funeral honors at veterans' funerals, color guards and other types of community events, and .?.?. certain [other] jobs in addition to the normal job of training reservists.
How can people help you?
We still need toys. They can hold their own toy drives and deliver them to our storage facilities or drop off toys to the white collection boxes near Walgreens, Toys R Us and Ruby Tuesdays, among many other locations. Donation checks help, too.
What do the Marines bring to this job?
It's great to work together as a team, even when it's hard work. And we get the job done. We have a commitment; we're going to see it through to the end.
What's the best part about your job?
Helping children who may otherwise not have a nice holiday season. Helping to put smiles on their faces, and give them positive childhood memories. My sentiments are shared by all the Marines at my unit.
What's your favorite toy that you've collected so far?
A huge bear the size of a lady, with a Buffalo Bills skullcap.
NAME: Marine Sgt. Shane Larkin, coordinator, Toys for Tots for Suffolk County, in Farmingdale.
WHAT IT DOES: Collects and distributes holiday toys to children in need.
EMPLOYEES: 5 full time; 15 part time.
BUDGET: $120,000 for purchasing toys, warehouse rental etc.