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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Marines Give Gifts to Needy Children

MTA Marine handing a present to a girl at a Toys for Tots party at the Ethiopian Embassy on Saturday. Marines in Moscow have been giving out gifts since 1995.
The chants of 185 orphans and refugee children from around the world filled the Ethiopian Embassy on Saturday morning as they waited impatiently for the star guest to arrive.

"Ded Moroz, Ded Moroz, Ded Moroz," the children shouted as the adults tried to keep control.

Finally Father Frost appeared -- or more precisely five U.S. Marines ready to hand out presents and chocolate bars alongside local volunteers as part of the Marines' annual Toys for Tots program.

The uniformed Marines, who usually guard the U.S. Embassy, initially seemed slightly ill at ease as they carried gift-filled sacks to the front of the cavernous embassy hall. The children, however, showed only enthusiasm, their eyes bulging at the sight of the sacks.

"It's a really nice thing to do," said Corporal Corey Carlson, a 21-year-old Minnesota native, smiling apprehensively as the children rushed toward him.

Started in 1947, Toys for Tots is a worldwide program run by the Marines and intended to distribute toys to needy children.

Marines stationed in Moscow have been participating in the program since 1995.

This year's toys were collected locally through donations from staff at the U.S. Embassy and the Canadian Women's Association. Among the fundraising events, the Marines organized a Christmas party at their residence in the embassy compound, with guests having to bring toys to gain entrance.

Among the children, whose ages ranged from toddlers to early teens, were 65 from City Orphanage No. 68 and 125 refugee children from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Cuba and several African countries.

"These children are the ones that are the most in need, the most hard up," said Gezahgn Wordofa, the head of Opora, a refugee organization that has worked with the Marines for the past four years.

"But they are only a small percentage of the total number that we need to help," he added, dressed in a Ded Moroz costume.

Struggling to be heard above the excited chatter, organizers shouted that there were enough presents for everyone and struggled to arrange the children into two lines, girls and boys.

In the happy bedlam of the wait for the presents, children jostled one another playfully as they tried to surge toward the presents.

"Americans are good people," cried out Ahmed, 11, from Afghanistan in English, as he eyed a pile of cuddly toys, action figures and model cars.

"I want a remote-control car," chimed in his brother Asib. When a Marine later handed him a Spiderman mask, he hesitated slightly before accepting it and dashing off to find his friends.

"It was getting a bit hectic for a minute there, but it's good to give the kids stuff," said Ivan Lopez, a Marine from Texas who said he had arrived in Moscow two months ago.

A visibly moved Catherine Barton, who is an employee at the U.S. Embassy and has helped organize Toys for Tots in Moscow for the past three years, said of the crowd of youngsters: "You watch the kids grow, and they become like family. It's nice for us to give something back to the community we're in."

Joey Springer, 11, from Washington, agreed as he helped his parents, both staff at the U.S. Embassy, hand out presents to the children, some of whom were his own age.

"I run the refugee bin collecting toys and clothes at the embassy. Its better to give than to get," he said.

By the end of the present giving, no one was left empty handed.

The Marines, all now considerably more at ease, clutched certificates of thanking them for their good works and smiled for a seemingly endless number of photos.