Glen Carter doesn’t wear a fur-trimmed red suit.
Or travel in a sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer.
Or have a “little round belly” that shakes when he laughs like a “bowl full of jelly.”
But he and his wife, Deb, do make sure children in and around the Tri-Cities have something under the Christmas tree, even when money is tight and their parents are struggling.
Running the local Toys for Tots is a big undertaking — and the Carters do it as volunteers, with Glen using two weeks of vacation from his job at BNSF Railway each December to be ready for the distribution.
There are always stressful moments. Will they have enough toys? Enough volunteers?
Their dedication is tireless. It always amazes me. It doesn’t matter when I show up, they’re there.
Sonja Young, longtime Toys for Tots volunteer
But there are joyous moments too. Plenty of them.
“I get to play Santa Claus for 6,000 kids,” Glen said. “How great is that?”
Toys for Tots is a program of the Marine Corps Reserve. It dates to the 1940s and helps millions of children each year.
The local chapter — Glen serves as coordinator, with Deb as his loyal assistant — helps about 6,000 children in Benton and Franklin counties.
The annual two-day toy distribution is in mid-December. But the work starts months before that.
Glen, Deb and their crew collect thousands of toys — enough to give each child a stocking stuffer and a small, medium and large toy to unwrap on Christmas morning.
They fill out reams of paperwork. They haul and load and sort and bag. They start early in the morning and work until well past dark.
“Their dedication is tireless. It always amazes me. It doesn’t matter when I show up, they’re there,” said Sonja Young, a longtime volunteer.
“If one of them isn’t there, it’s because they’re shopping after we ran out of toys or they’re going around to collection boxes,” she said. “(This time of year), their lives are dedicated to Toys for Tots.”
The Carters live in Pasco and have been married 26 years.
Glen, a locomotive engineer for BNSF Railway, spent 12 years in the Marine Corps. That included service in the first Iraq war.
He was there when the couple’s first son was born.
“I was six months pregnant (when he left),” Deb said.
“It got me out of Lamaze class,” Glen said with a laugh.
Even in the war zone, there were hints of his future role with Toys for Tots.
“One of my favorite pictures is him and his crew on their tank, handing out boxes of candy to the kids,” Deb said. “They’re on this tank and there are all these kids around them. It’s one of my favorite pictures he brought back from the war.”
Glen said the children he met overseas are part of the reason he’s involved with Toys for Tots now.
I think that kids who have hope are going to become better citizens for our community.
Glen Carter, Toys for Tots local coordinator
“I’ve seen the effect of poverty on a population, what it can do. And what kids will do when they have no hope,” he said. “I think that kids who have hope are going to become better citizens for our community.”
And with Toys for Tots, he and Deb and their crew of volunteers are offering hope.
The Carters get emotional when they tell stories from their years with the program.
Like the time they were short on toys and spread the word through local media.
A woman who was signed up — her family’s toys were bagged and ready to go — called to say her kids would go without so others could have the gifts. She’d been in a car accident with her daughter and they both survived, so she felt like they’d already received their Christmas blessing.
The Carters were touched by her selflessness. They didn’t let her family miss out on Christmas gifts.
“She got her toys, by the way,” Glen said with a smile. “Oh yeah.”
Or the time they got a call from a teenage boy who wanted to arrange toys for his younger brothers and sisters.
“I started talking to him. (I asked), ‘Can’t your parents sign up?’ He said, ‘no, they’re both working a couple jobs,’” Glen recalled.
It turned out the boy was seriously ill and his parents were working around the clock to cover medical expenses.
“That about broke my heart,” Glen said. “We were able to help them out. We work with a lot of other charities, and I contacted everybody I knew. Got them a Christmas dinner, coats, everything we could do.”
The world can be a tough place, Glen said. “And then you meet people who are doing everything they can to get toys for their brothers and sisters. That’s one of the reason I love doing this — I get to meet the nicest people in the world.”
Registration for this year’s toy distribution already has passed. But Toys for Tots still is taking donations of new toys and cash.
The two-day toy distribution event is next weekend.
The Carters have been volunteering with Toys for Tots for about a decade. Glen Carter has been coordinator for six years.
At some point, he and Deb would like to slow down, maybe hand off running the program — even for just one year.
But that won’t happen until they’re sure someone will step up. The Tri-Cities’ Santa and Mrs. Claus love what they do too much.
With the program, “we try to give a sense of community. We want people to know that we’re here to help,” Glen Carter said. “And we want to give a message of hope to the kids. That tomorrow could be better. You’ve got Christmas toys — it’s going to be a happy time for the family.”
About 50 Tri-City area businesses are collecting toys for the program. To see the list of sites or make a cash donation, go to bit.ly/tottoys.
Toys also may be dropped off at the Marine Corps recruiting office, 1220 Columbia Center Blvd., Kennewick.
How to help
About 50 Tri-City businesses are participating this year in collecting toys for the local Toys for Tots program.
The program collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December and distributes them as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community.
To see the list of donation sites or make a cash donation, go to bit.ly/tottoys. Toys also may be dropped off at the Marine Corps recruiting office, 1220 Columbia Center Blvd., Kennewick.