Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the "Toys for Tots" Drive

December 16, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much. (Applause.) Well, good afternoon, everyone. And thank you, General Osman, for not just that very kind and generous introduction but for all that you do for "Toys for Tots" and for this country.

As he said, this is my third year doing this, and every year, truly, I look forward to coming by and seeing folks come together to make the holidays just a little bit brighter for their neighbors.

This is my last official visit. This is a way to cap off my holiday season. This is my last official visit before I get my kids out of here and we actually spend some time together as a family. And this is a great way for me, personally, to end the season -- being with all of you and doing what we can for kids who don't have the fortune of -- the good fortune of having people who can provide a wonderful Christmas.

But it's also important for people to know what this tradition is and how it started. It's been going on for more than 60 years, and it started with a simple idea. It was a Marine's wife who fashioned a handmade doll, and then asked her husband to donate that doll to children in need for the holidays. This was 60 years ago. But that Marine couldn't find a place to donate the doll, because no such organization existed.

So this couple decided to do something about it. And that's really what military families do. I'll share a story with you: This morning, I was laying in bed with Malia, before they were getting ready for school, and she asked me what I was going to do today, and I said I'm doing "Toys for Tots," and she said, that's really a great program. And she said, how did it start? And I said, you know, Marines started it. And most people don't realize that, because "Toys for Tots" has become a national organization, a national brand; so many people adopt it, they forget that this is something that's done by military families. And Malia said, you know what? It is so impressive that given all military families have to do anyway, that on top of what they do, they're doing this as well. And I'm like, look, if a 13-year-old can get it and understand that that's who our military families are, then we all should get it as a country. And it was a very powerful example of just how valuable and just how constant our military families -- how selfless they are.

So soon enough, this toy drive turned into the national organization that we now know today as "Toys for Tots."

So today, we're here to continue that tradition. And we couldn't do it without all of the volunteers, all of the donors who work so hard during the holiday season. This is hard work. It takes people who take time out of their own families, time to come, shop, sort toys, make sure things get out. I mean, this doesn't happen automatically; it happens because people give up time, precious time with their families to make this happen. So this wouldn't be possible without all of the volunteers. So I want to extend a very big thank you to all of you, especially all of our troops and all of our military families who have led this effort this year, and who lead it every year. You all have given so much to our country, as Malia has recognized, and then you keep giving more to your neighbors and the broader community. And it is truly inspiring.

"Toys for Tots," my relationship that I've had with military families all across the country, folks like you is one of the reasons why Jill Biden and I started "Joining Forces," which is our major campaign to rally all Americans to honor, recognize, and support our veterans and military families. And we've had wonderful success with this program, and it hasn't been difficult at all. People have been stepping up in ways big and small -- businesses making a point to hire veterans and military spouses; local schools partnering to reach out to military kids.

America is behind our families, and a lot of it is because of this kind of work that you do every single day. And it has been a true honor and a gift for me to get to know many of these families and to be able to champion your work to the rest of the country. And "Toys for Tots" is just another one of those examples, and that's why it's so important for me to be involved this year, and to make sure that the White House is involved.

And this year is no different. At the White House, we're paying tribute to our military this holiday season. All over the White House there are signs of your strength and your sacrifice and your courage. At the White House, we're showcasing the stories and the pictures of our fallen heroes. We're giving guests an opportunity to send a thank-you note to troops overseas. And once again, we collected hundreds of toys from White House staff, which I've had the honor of bringing here today.

We had a 27 percent increase from last year. That's good, but we can do more. We will be doing more next year. So hopefully we're doing our part.

But one of the important mottos of "Joining Forces" is that everyone can do something. That's what Jill and I are saying. You don't have to live in the White House. You don't have to spend a fortune. You don't have to be an expert in military life to be a part of this effort and to lift families up. You just have to be willing to give just a little bit back to your community and to your country. And that's the spirit that led the Marine and his wife to start "Toys for Tots" all those years ago, and it's what will make this year's drive successful once again.

Now before I go and we start getting to work, I just want to remind everyone out there who is watching this event that it is not too late to donate. You can donate through the holiday season, and this year is like no other. The demand increases even as giving increases. There are more and more families that need support and help, so it is not too late. So anybody who is watching this, any of our press who are writing about this, it is still important to nudge our neighbors; to say, give, give, give. We need people to bring in toys like never before.

And I always point out that we always like to get those cute little gifts for the little kids -- the stuffed animals, the little dolls, all the fun games. But I always urge people to remember the older children, because these toys are going to families and there are kids from infants all the way into their teen years. And we're encouraging people to donate clothes, to get those fun games that you might think an average teen would get -- think of somebody 11 to 14. Many of you have kids; you know what these kids are into. Those are the kind of toys that oftentimes we're short on, so I urge people to keep the age spread in mind as they go out and pick up gifts.

And once you do that, you can still go to toysfortots.org to donate or to find a drop-off location. So there is still time. There is still a huge demand. So anybody out there who has an extra toy -- even wonderful, homemade gifts can be nice for some of these children. So, again, it doesn't take much.

But there are families -- millions of families who are in need, millions of families who rely on this gift to make their holiday season special for their children, and there are so many of us who are blessed, who have the fortune, the good fortune to be doing well this holiday season. And it's up to us to dig deep and to make sure we take care of our neighbors out there who may be struggling.

So hopefully people will hear this message and they'll go out and they'll make this year's drive the most successful ever.

I want to congratulate once again the Marines for their hard work. I want to thank all the families once again for all that you do. I hope you all get some rest, you get an opportunity to enjoy your holiday season. We are so grateful and thankful to all of you. God bless you all, and happy holidays.

And now I get to do a little work. I'm going to do some toy sorting. I assume I will get some instructions on what I'm to do, but we're going to get to work. So, you all, thank you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the "Toys for Tots" Drive Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320537

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