It was an early Christmas for 234 southern Lancaster County children who received toys last week that were distributed by the Lancaster County Young Marines.

While parents shopped on the second floor for the toys, their children stayed on the first floor. The distribution took place at the Young Marines' headquarters at the Quarryville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3575 in Martic Township.

According to Betty Draper, whose husband Ray started the Young Marines 12 years ago, this was the 10th year for the event.

"It went very well. Everyone was very grateful," Draper said.

Parents got to chose three brand new toys for each child that have been donated to the Toys for Tots program at collection sites throughout southern Lancaster County.

The toys are grouped for specific ages and whether they're for a girl or a boy. The Toys for Tots program also provides stocking stuffers such as books and tapes.

"It's a complete package so the parents don't have to buy anything," said Gil Bixler, chairman of the Lancaster County Toys for Tots program.

Last year, 200 children received toys in the Quarryville area. Since that number is up this year, Bixler said that proves a need is there.

A list of families that are eligible to receive toys is obtained through the Solanco Community Action Program office in Quarryville.

Last year, the program provided 4,736 needy children with toys, said Bixler.

"There are 355 locations in the county for toys now and last year we had 265," he said.

The Quarryville locations to drop off Toys for Tots were Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Good's Store, Ferguson & Hassler's, and Musser's Market at the Buck. Darrenkamps and E.M. Farm and Home Store in Willow Street also served as collection sites.

Toys are distributed in seven towns. They are Columbia, Quarryville, New Holland, Mt. Joy, Elizabethtown, Manheim and Ephrata. There are also 19 other organizations Toys for Tots provides toys to, said Bixler.

When the organization is short on toys to distribute, like they are for children ages 9 to 15, they go shopping. They recently went to K-Mart and spent $10,000 from donations to buy presents.

Draper said the Young Marines, who are sponsored by the VFW post, helped to collect and distribute the toys. They also carried boxes of gifts out to the families' vehicles.

Draper said she remembers that when her husband, who is deceased, started the Young Marines, they only got old toys to give to families.

"Now everything is brand new," she said.

The Young Marines range in age from 8 to 18. About 60 percent live in the southern end, and the remainder come from other parts of the county. Worldwide, there are more than 12,000 Young Marines.

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