Spreading holiday cheer in Nipomo thanks to Toys for Tots

Toys for Tots is alive and well in Nipomo, thanks to Bob Armstrong, who has been masterminding the holiday toy collection there for the past two years. Armstrong works fulltime as a manager at the Ride-On transportation service, and he learned of Toys for Tots through Ride-On accountant Debbie Mansfield. Mansfield volunteers as the Toys for Tots manager for Five Cities.

“We collect the toys and partner with people who distribute the toys” to the families, said Armstrong. The Family Resource Center in Nipomo matches the family need with the toys.

According to Armstrong, Mary Squellati of the FRC “deserves kudos- -  she does an exceptional job” of matching.  He added, “We want the parents to wrap the toys for the kids.” That way, parents feel part of the process. Armstrong took over managing Toys for Tots two years ago from Nipomo resident John Plunkett, who remains active in the program.

Plunkett goes to groups like the Rotary Club, Nipomo Newcomers, and golf courses to talk about Toys for Tots and request donations.

Plunkett also helps with data entry and processing donations, “the tedious grunt work that had to be done,” he said. He and his wife were first active with Toys for Tots in 2003-06, then left the area and now have returned.  He was first involved in 1954 as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve.

Armstrong, 53, lives in Nipomo and has been volunteering for children’s programs since his own kids grew up (they are now ages 22 and 24).  Prior to Toys for Tots he was president of the Nipomo Recreation Center.

He has been in management all his life, previously in the private sector for Scolari Markets.

Toy for Tots was started in Los Angeles in 1947 by the Marine Corps and is still managed by them. Reservists that year collected 5,000 toys. The Marine Corps keeps it going by being “very meticulous and very thorough” . . . using “time frames and schedules,” said Armstrong.

The initial and continuing objective is to “bring the joy of Christmas to America’s needy children,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

Each year the Oceano Airport holds a “fly-in-day” for Toys for Tots, organized by the Friends of the Oceano Airport.  People fly into the airport in their planes, bringing toys.  There is a barbecue, music and the Honor Guard.    

Toys may be left at drop boxes that are at many shops and businesses.  There are also coin dispensers at Von’s gas station on Tefft Street and other locations. For information on volunteering or donating, contact Armstrong at bob@ride-on.org, or go to www.toysfortots.org.


Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 ornightengayles@aol.com.