Joining forces for the greater good
Staff Sgt. Edwin Latrell knows what it’s like to go without during the holiday season. Growing up in a lower-middle class family, Latrell experienced both good and bad Decembers, where toys and presents were not a guarantee. Now, Latrell is helping to ensure other children don’t go without.
Latrell helped to bring together the University of Idaho and WSU Navy ROTC programs and UI Greek system to deploy the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign for the second year in a row to gather gifts and monetary donations for families throughout the Palouse.
The final collection will take place Dec. 12-14 at the Wal-Mart in Moscow. Both toys and monetary donations will be accepted and be distributed to local families on the Palouse.
This year was an opportunity to build on last year’s effort, a challenge Latrell said he was dedicated to.
“When I am presented with an idea, as this was the case, of ‘Hey, how do we improve upon our performance?’ It becomes a challenge of how we can take this wonderful event that we had last year and not only find a way to recreate those results, but find a way to improve them,” Latrell said.
Latrell became involved with the Toys for Tots program last year when his wife, Julie, needed to create a community service program or adapt an existing one as part of her master’s program. Latrell said his wife began investigating the Toys for Tots program in the area and began working to find ways to improve it.
Latrell said when he started to look into Toys for Tots he found out it unfortunately did not have a large footprint in the Moscow-Pullman area. Latrell’s wife put forth the effort to see what would happen if the Marine Corps Reserves symbol were displayed on the box.
Through her efforts, as well as Latrell’s, there was a significant increase in Toys for Tots participation turnout last year. The community collected more than $2,500 and about 330 toys, Latrell said, while the area had previously raised about 150-200 toys and $700 to $800 in one season. This year, Latrell said getting the UI Greek system involved became a goal to increase the number of donations even more.
“I’m a member of the Phi Kappa Tau house,” Latrell said. “I’m an out-of-house member, but I use the Greek system as a way to be a mentor to the regular college students in addition to the NROTC students, so it was very easy for me to approach Kappa Tau and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we set our house up as an organizer for the Greek community to get as many houses as we can trying to compete against each other to fill the boxes.”
After approaching each Greek house personally, Latrell said the on-campus fraternities and sororities collected 636 toys and $1,116 throughout the course of one week. The Gamma Phi Beta sorority was able to the collect most cash out of all of the sororities and the Pike house won for total amount of cash donated by a fraternity. Beta Chi donated the most toys from a fraternity, and Alpha Gamma Delta donated the most toys from a sorority. Latrell said he commended Alpha Gamma Delta for donating the most toys by far out of all the fraternities and sororities.
This ideology is also what local Toys for Tots Coordinator Jim White said motivates him to be involved and passionate about the Toys for Tots program. The Toys for Tots program began in Palouse area in 2004, and White said it has been working with local organizations and churches to gather lists for families in need and distributing gifts through those organizations ever since. White said giving is a rewarding process.
“That’s the reason why you do this, is for the kids,” White said. “Seeing the faces of the kids coming through, that’s the reason why I do it.”
White said while the Toys for Tots program is growing, the Moscow-Pullman area has grown significantly in the last two years after NROTC became involved. NROTC originally became a distribution site for Toys for Tots five years ago, but became involved in collection last year. Latrell said the collection for this year doesn’t end with the Greek system, as the NROTC and Toys for Tots give the entire community an opportunity to give.
“In order to ensure the entire University of Idaho community, not only the students but also Moscow as a whole that supports the University of Idaho as a community, has a chance to participate and get involved, we do the big Wal-Mart collection day at the end,” Latrell said. “This is everyone’s chance to participate with the University of Idaho and the whole program.”
Cara Pantone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org