Inspired by the famous Marine Corps commercial that shows 2 Marines walking out of a house on Christmas morning, John Dickson has been the Monroe County Coordinator for the United States Marine Corps Reserve, operating under the Pocono Marine Corps League Detachment 492, Toys for Tots program for the past 18 years.
John, affectionately known as “The Toy Man” works non-stop, year-round, to make each year’s Toys for Tots program the very best it can be. “This job takes countless hours each year, often taking me away from my family and friends,” John says quietly. “But when mom and dad can’t provide Christmas gifts for their kids, the US Marine Corps Reserves steps up. It’s a mission of the Corps,” John says with a glint in his eye. “Once a marine, always a marine.”
John attributes the success to the program each year to the overwhelming generosity of our community. “There has been an outpouring of support from this community,” John says, shaking his head slightly. “Every year, I am amazed at how much people care. It just touches me.”
The Toys for Tots effort is a huge undertaking, one that starts on January 1 and ends mid-December and one that John could not do alone. In fact, he credits the success of the campaign to the countless volunteers and donors who show up each year.
“It’s not about me,” John says adamantly, and not for the first time. “It’s about us.”
The “us” that John refers to, in addition to The Marine Corps Reserves, is a huge network of volunteers, business owners, community groups and organizations, donors and even a school district of almost 3,000 students. “Dr. Catherine Sweeney, Superintendent of Pocono Mountain School District is an integral part of this program. She coordinates the sorting of tens of thousands of toys and the distribution of those toys to The Salvation Army and PVEN, all as a volunteer. She is the heart and soul of the program and we would be nothing without her.”
More importantly though, are the people that put the toys in the box and donate money each year. “It’s the generosity of donors that make this program what it is,” John says humbly. “It is such an honor to be entrusted with the by-product of hard work from people who just want to give a child a happy Christmas. That’s the magic right there.”
This year, The Salvation Army reported an increase of over 1000 toys needed to John. “We registered almost 2,200 children for toys in 2019,” says Salvation Army Food Pantry/Volunteer Director Jill Brink. “The need was so much greater this year. We brought the challenge to Mr. Dickson and he responded as he normally does. He simply said, ‘ok Jill, we’ll step it up.’”
People that donate toys to the 150+ local businesses, as well as people who donate monetarily, entrust the Toys for Tots program, from the countless volunteers to the staff at The Salvation Army and PVEN who distribute the gifts, with the responsibility that everyone involved will be good stewards of their gifts, ensuring that every single toy is given to brighten up Christmas morning for kids in need.
“I trust Jill and her team 100%,” John says with a wink. “I have faith that Jill makes sure each family that comes through is qualified to receive toys. The public entrusts us with their donation, and we trust The Salvation Army.”
When asked why John doesn’t retire after 18 years of service, John responds simply, “If not me, then who?”
What started as a small effort, nearly 18 years ago, has turned into an annual outpouring of generosity, kindness, compassion and love.
“The amount of work that goes into the Toys for Tots program is astonishing,” John says, quietly. “We aren’t looking for recognition or gratitude. We are all in this together.”
“Although he would object,” says Jill with a huge smile. “I can tell you that Mr. Dickson is the heart and soul of the Toys for Tots program in Monroe County. I have personally seen him buying toys in July, because they are on sale and using his own reward points to get the very best price to ensure every dollar is stretched to its limit. That is what this program means to John. He is a staunch but humble representative of the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a loyal, compassionate and caring advocate to thousands of children each year. His heart is even bigger than Santa’s.”