By Charles David Henry
The 2016 San Quentin’s Toys for Tots program came earlier this year. On Dec. 16 chairman Gary Cooper and members of the Veterans Group of San Quentin (VGSQ) decorated the Christmas tree in the main visiting room and received nearly 400 gifts from the United States Marine Corps Recruitment Center in San Bruno. More than half of those gifts were also distributed to H-Unit.
This year’s program ran for two consecutive weekends on Dec. 17-18 and 24-25. The men from VGSQ received various toys for children ages 10 months to 16 years and set up the room so that a child could easily pick a gift from a large selection and leave with it when their visit was over.
VGSQ member Tederick Sims has participated in the Toys for Tots program for the second year. “This gives me so much joy to see the excitement it brings to kids when they walk into the room and pick out a gift.”
These simple things help the men at San Quentin through the frustration of not being home during the holiday with their children, grandchildren and families. At least the kids can come to visit and leave with a gift. Twelve-year-old John came to visit his father, John, and was surprised when a member of the VGSQ insisted he pick a gift. “This is so cool,” he said.
VGSQ member Stephen Wilson has been involved with the Toys for Tots for several years. He is a grandfather and remembers the times when he was able to experience the pleasure he got when his children opened their toys. “The excitement of watching these kids pick a gift gives me so much joy and puts me in the spirit of the holidays and reminds me of the past Christmas.”
Unique Aubrey, 16, came to visit her father, Derrico Aubrey, and found a gift to her liking. “I’m dedicated to keeping the family unit together, and I have been coming to visit my father for the past 10 years and will always support him,” she said.
Kevin Brinckman, a VGSQ member who enjoys sharing the holiday spirit with the other veterans, said, “I just get so much pleasure out of watching kids pick a toy and the excitement they have when picking it up before they leave. This is my way of giving something back. It helps me deal with the holiday spirit,” he says.
Garin Robinson, who has been involved with the veterans group for five years, enjoys being around other veterans sharing in a worthy cause like Toys for Tots. “It’s the joy and pleasure of seeing us put together these toys for the kids that keeps me coming back every year,” he said.
Other members who participated in this 28th year Toys for Tots are Stan Baer, Tony Burch, Wesley Eisiminger, Michael Upton and Bernard Werner.
“This is the 28th year that we have received gifts for these Toys for Tots programs, and this year is the most exciting because of the number of gifts we received from the Marines. We understand that the needs out there in the communities are just as great as the needs are here in prison, and we greatly appreciate the effort they put forth in making these gifts available to our prison population and their families. I want to extend a sincere thanks to our VGSQ sponsor Madeline Tenney for her dedication and commitment to making Toys for Tots a success again this year at San Quentin,” said Cooper.