News: 16th birthday nets big haul for Toys for Tots
Story by Michael DiCicco
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. - Abby Sylvester of Fredericksburg had been planning her “sweet-16” birthday party since she was 13, but as she and her parents were finally sitting at the kitchen table and drawing up the lengthy guest list, she realized there was one thing she hadn’t thought of:
“I would be embarrassed if all these people gave me a lot of stuff I didn’t really need, and it would be a waste,” she said.
Instead, she decided it would be more meaningful to have the gifts go where they would make a bigger difference.
She proposed soliciting gifts for Quantico’s Toys for Tots campaign.
“My dad was a Marine, and that kind of stuff was already important to my family,” she said, noting that she and her parents had always sponsored families and donated to Toys for Tots during the holidays.
Her father and godfather, another retired Marine, arranged the details for the toy drive.
Her father, retired Maj. David Sylvester, requested to have two Marines attend to help out.
Enter Cpl. John Alfano and Cpl. Chris Fernandez, who joined upwards of 80 guests at the Fredericksburg Country Club on Nov. 5.
“It was a pretty good turnout for a birthday party, I’ll tell you that,” Alfano said. In his third year of working Toys for Tots and after more than 50 events, he said this was only the second time he’d seen or heard of a teen birthday party becoming a fundraiser for the Marine Corps’ holiday charity.
Fernandez said he thought the event remarkable “for the fact that you hear a 16-year-old say, ‘Oh, I want people to bring gifts for underprivileged kids instead of myself.’” And he said the guests also showed themselves to be thoughtful by the quality of the toys they brought. “They were really thinking about what kids would actually want, and not just grabbing something.”
Alfano said he especially enjoyed spending time with Abby’s father and godfather. “Hanging out with the older, retired Marines and the esprit de corps between generations was pretty awesome,” he said.
“The Marines were great. They really were the hit of the evening,” said David Sylvester. “They were a little shy at first, but they ended up dancing and staying until the end.”
For her part, Abby said she had fun, even though an illness had landed her in the hospital for dehydration the night before.
“I fell asleep in the coatroom at the end of the party, but other than that, it was awesome,” she said.
The toy haul was substantial, as some guest even brought more than one gift.
“We had two huge wardrobe boxes that were overflowing with toys,” David Sylvester said.
Fernandez said it was about double the take from a usual Toys for Tots event.