NUWC Division Newport’s annual Toys for Tots drive nets nearly 1,200 donations

’Tis the season for giving, and the workforce at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport did its part once again to spread some holiday joy. There were toy cars, a microscope and board games. There was a basketball, large stuffed animals and a shiny red bicycle.

In total, 1,189 gifts, both large and small, were donated to support the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, the goal of which is to help bring the joy of the holidays and “send a message of hope to America’s less fortunate children.”

The Toys for Tots organization was established in 1948 by Marine Corps Reservist Maj. Bill Henricks and his wife Diane, and this marks the fifth year that NUWC Division Newport has participated by collecting unwrapped toys for children ages newborn to 12. The 1,189 donations this year nearly duplicated the 1,215 collected in 2022.

Natasha Dickenson and Erin Oliveira, both from Division Newport’s Environmental Branch in the Corporate Operations Department, organized the Toys for Tots campaign at Division Newport for the second straight season, and both take great pride in spearheading the effort.

“This is one of my favorite things that I do here at NUWC,” Dickenson said. “Just to see how generous people are, seeing the toys that are coming in and being able to help get those toys out and into the hands of children in Rhode Island is completely heartwarming.”

“Natasha and I both have kids, so it’s important to us,” said Oliveira, who grew emotional as she spoke. “It’s nice to see so many people giving.”

Dickenson and Oliveira took over organizational duties in 2022 after Patricia Tavares, the previous coordinator, retired. With a year under their belt, things ran quite seamlessly.

“It was definitely easier,” Dickenson said. “We kind of came up with lessons learned from last year, things we could do to make it go more smoothly. We knew the right people to contact right away, so now we have a pretty good process in place that we can follow every year.”

Large boxes draped in festive wrapping paper were placed inside 20 buildings on the Division Newport campus last month, and some took different approaches in filling them. For example, Oliveira said, the folks at the Narragansett Bay Test Facility gave money to one employee, who went out and purchased a number of toys to donate.

While this year’s campaign officially started on Nov. 15, the heavy lifting — literally — was done on Dec. 19. That’s when a cadre of volunteers collected the toys, sorted and counted them and packaged them into 25 boxes that were then hoisted onto a truck bound for the Toys for Tots headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island. The toys will be distributed to children in need throughout the state.

In 2022, Rhode Island Toys for Tots experienced a banner year, collecting 88,169 gifts that supported 19,951 children.

“There are families who are struggling to get toys for their children, whether they have one child or they have five,” Dickenson said. “It’s nice to know they can go to this organization and get toys and the happiness they want to have on Christmas morning.”

Such an undertaking wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers at Division Newport. Just before the toys were lifted onto the truck, Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings thanked the many employees who had a hand in this year’s Toys for Tots campaign.

“We have so many people who want to volunteer their time, which is great,” Dickenson said. “We have tasks at the beginning that we can utilize volunteers for, and today is the big day and there are people everywhere. People get excited and want to come together to do something that’s good for the community.”

“People come out of the woodwork because they know this is happening and they want to help,” Oliveira added.

In addition to Oliveira and Dickenson, volunteers from the Corporate Operations Department included Erica Felins, Monica DeAngelis, Stacie Paquette, Emily Robinson, Emily Kearns, Jessica Greene, Mark Jasper, Todd Cabral and Ivan Tejada. Other volunteers included support contractors Julie Seekell, Elizabeth McLean, Ryan McLarney, Makenzie Grider, David Loiselle, Tammy Condry, Joe Markman, James Reilly, Daniel Pimentel, Zach Gunn, Isaiah Brown and Corey Schultz.

“Every year we try to beat the number from the previous year, but we’re proud of what we did this year,” Dickenson said.




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