Toys for Tots: It All Started With a Rag Doll

Compiled by View Staff

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, thanks to Bill and Diane Hendricks, who started the program for needy Los Angeles children during Christmas, 1947.

Diane Hendricks had collected some toys and had knitted a red and white rag doll to give to some underprivileged children who probably wouldn't receive a toy for Christmas. But she couldn't find anyone collecting toys, so she turned to her husband, Bill, for help.

Hendricks, then a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at the Chavez Ravine station, suggested to his commanding officer that marine reservists initiate a toy drive. "He liked the idea," Hendricks (a retired colonel) recalled this week. "And he said two words: 'Don't fail.' "

The Marines collected 7,000 toys that year, with the Hendricks (who never had children of their own) and their friends delivering them to families until midnight Christmas Eve. "Anybody who said hello to me that first year got drafted to deliver toys," said Hendricks, who lives in Burbank.

Last year, Toys for Tots volunteers in 50 states and Panama distributed more than 7 million toys to 3 million children.

Collection barrels for the drive can be found at many corporate headquarters, churches, social and civic organizations, and have become a traditional Christmas fixture at Warner Studios, where Hendricks previously worked as publicity director, assistant to studio head Jack Warner, director of the cartoon department and as an Academy Award-winning documentary producer.

"It was a success right from the start," Bill Hendricks said, "and it all started with that magical rag doll. It showed there was a need for this kind of program then, and I believe there's a bigger need today."

City Council Gets Behind Free Pet Spaying, Neutering Program

Joy and Anthony Goldschmidt prodded Councilman Joel Wachs. Wachs, in turn, prodded the L.A. City Council. The council agreed to offer free spaying and neutering for dogs and cats for a limited period at four city animal shelters. The Goldschmidts and friends provided $1 million worth of advertising support. The city program--(800) 262-SPAY--lasts until Jan. 21 (it's already booked until late December). And then?

"We hope to persuade them to extend the program year-round," Joy Goldschmidt said. "It's so important. Five years from now we'll see a real impact. California could be the leading state in animal welfare." And if the city turns down the proposal, there's always the Cassidy Foundation.

The Goldschmidts, who run Intralink Film Graphic Design, founded Cassidy--named for a doughty three-legged dog--in 1985. "We felt that taking animals from the shelters was not even making a dent," Joy said. "I'd take an animal (from the pound) and go back the next day to find five more in the same cage. I had to get to the root of the problem."

The Cassidy Foundation offers free spay and neuter vouchers to anyone who requests them. "Many can't really afford it," Joy said. "Anthony and I have financed most of it, but now we're starting to get donations. As long as I have a dollar in my pocket, there'll be a dollar in the Cassidy account."

A Christmas Ritual

You'd figure that at 81, maybe you could kick back and let somebody else do the Christmas shopping. Not Dr. Herman Epstein.

The semi-retired orthopedic surgeon starts his shopping 'round about July. He has to. The kids count on it. All 900 of them. And Epstein and his wife, Beatrice, are not about to let them down. Never have. Not for 41 years.

The ritual originated with Epstein's arrival in 1946 at the L.A. County-USC Medical Center: a couple of toys for the shut-ins and the outpatients. No big deal, Epstein says: "Beatrice and I just love kids, that's all. The family and friends help out a lot. We make up the difference."

This year, five floors of LAC-USC Pediatric Pavilion patients will reap the Epstein largesse ("five or six presents each; all new") on Dec. 14. Outpatients will get "three or four" gifts apiece on the 15th.

"Our six kids have always been in on it," Epstein said. "They'll probably carry it on when I'm gone. You want their names?" Sure. "Elliott, Normy, Jonathan, Martha, Elizabeth, Benita." Then there are the grandchildren: Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid. . . .

Marvelous. Almost miraculous. But why Christmas? Aren't the Epsteins Jewish? "Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, what's the difference?" asks the good doctor. "Whatever the day, love is love."

A Good Neighbor Cleans Up With 'America' Award

After finishing work, most folks go home to eat dinner, watch television, read a book or place themselves in some other form of repose.

Not Ian Miller. When the building supply salesman returns home from work, he often goes out to work alone sweeping area streets or pulling weeds in nearby lots to beautify his Panorama City neighborhood.

For that work Miller has received an a "Take Pride in America" award from the contest of the same name sponsored by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Although he has been working to clean the neighborhood for almost nine months since he moved there, Miller, 25, gets little help from his neighbors when he's wielding his broom or his hoe.

"Some of the neighbors have seen it," he said. "They ask why I do it. I tell them I like to see the community clean. I've done a lot of volunteer work. I really enjoy working with people. That's my whole point--to try to make the community better."

Miller received a certificate and a letter from Gov. George Deukmejian for his triumph. Now his application will be forwarded to Washington, where he'll be a candidate for a national award to be handed out early next year.

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