Marines kick off annual Toys for Tots campaign

BAZETTA – Local runners of all ages squeezed into their track shoes Sunday afternoon in support of a good cause, as the third annual Toys for Tots 5K race, cookout and family event got under way.

The yearly event is hosted by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, with all of the proceeds going to help needy children in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

“That’s really a great thing about this event,” event organizer Sgt. Modesto Montano said. “All of that money stays in these two counties and goes to our local kids in need.”

The 2013 edition saw 32 official entrants sprint across the marked lanes at Imagination Station Park in Bazetta. Each participant paid $25 to run.

Cortland resident Bambi Betts ran the event for the first time at the encouragement of a friend she has in the Marines.

“I’m a little out of shape, but not too bad,” Betts laughed. “I made it across, so that was good.”

Kim Rowbotham of Warren came out to support the Marines and Toys for Tots, which she called a vital charity.

“They have a box at the VFW for Toys for Tots, and I bring in toys for the kids any time I can,” Rowbotham said. “Also, Toys for Tots is the first cause on my list every Christmas to buy for. That’s a big reason why I ran today, to support them”

Kevin Taylor, 14, was the top finisher on the day, running the 5K in a time of 21:28.5. Tony Ford (22:50.0) and Charlie Woodrum (24:48.0) rounded out the top three.

Montano was responsible for organizing this year’s run. It will be followed by other events benefiting Toys For Tots in the next couple months.

“This has traditionally been our kickoff for Toys for Tots,” Montano said. “We definitely had more people than we were expecting. It was a good turnout.”

According to its website, the mission of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves’ Toys for Tots program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year.

Toys will then be distributed as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community.

“The Marine Corps founded Toys For Tots and it is still a very important program for us,” Montano said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Additionally, the Miles of Smiles organization helped promote and conduct Sunday’s race. Member Erin Schumacher was the official time-keeper.

“It’s all about helping with Toys For Tots and working with the Marines,” Schumacher said. “It’s awesome stuff.”

Although dark clouds rolled over the park by 4 p.m., Gunnery Sgt. Brian Zeifang was thankful rain stayed away.

“In the middle of the week, we were starting to worry because it was in the forecast,” Zeifang said.

Zeifang is part of the active duty staff at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.

“I’ve got four kids of my own, so I’ve been there and I understand the need,” Zeifang said. “The community has embraced it and we hope to make this bigger in the future.”

Upcoming events local Marines will take part in to benefit Toys For Tots include VFW Marine birthday ball in Warren on Nov. 10, a craft show in Youngstown on Nov. 17 and a Youngstown Phantoms hockey game on Nov. 24.