December 14, 2012
By Cpl. Michael Ito
NEW ORLEANS — Ted is a teddy bear. He was donated to the Toys for Tots program so he could change the life of a child that would have otherwise not had a Christmas. He will inspire more than one child though, because he is the main character of Rebecca Varicak’s new children’s book, “The Journey of a Toys for Tots Toy!”
“The Journey of a Toys for Tots Toy!” was released Nov. 21, and the Varicak family is donating all proceeds to the Toys for Tots Foundation. The book is available online in paperback and e-book versions.
Rebecca is married to Lt. Col. Michael Varicak, the Inspector-Instructor of Headquarters and Service Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, Marine Forces Reserve, in Marietta, Ga. The Varicak family has been involved with the Toys for Tots program since 1999, when Rebecca worked at the Toys for Tots Foundation while her husband was attending Amphibious Warfare School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.
“I was working as an administrative assistant at the [Toys for Tots] foundation, when I got a call that changed my life,” she said. “I got a collect call, and I didn’t know whether to take it or not, but something told me I should. So I picked it up and a voice said, ‘Don’t hang up. I’m an inmate, I’m in prison. I have three children, and I know if you guys can’t help them, they won’t get a Christmas.’ And we helped them. We got in touch with the local coordinator and we gave those kids a Christmas. That is the essence of the Marine Corps and the Toys for Tots Foundation. That’s what our family is all about.”
Rebecca wanted to continue to stay involved in the program even after the Corps moved the family to Georgia, she said. So after they settled in, she took on the responsibility to serve as volunteer coordinator for the Atlanta metropolitan area.
“My daughter was in kindergarten during the last Toys for Tots season, and it was career day at school,” she said. “She told her class that her dad worked for Toys for Tots. We tried to find a book to explain to her how the program worked and there just wasn’t anything out there.”
That’s how the idea was born, and Rebecca set out to put something together, said Lt. Col. Varicak. She first wrote a poem about the program and read it at the capitol tree-lighting ceremony in Atlanta. The reaction was immediate; everybody loved it.
“People asked for more of a story,” Rebecca said. “I asked my daughter about it, and she said it was too boring for a book. So I put my experience to work. I had a perspective from both sides; I’d seen how the foundation worked, and I’d been with the volunteers that give all of their hearts to the program.”
Determined to tell the story of giving, Rebecca composed the story, which follows Ted through the entire Toys for Tots process, from sitting on the shelf at a toy store, to the arms of a child on Christmas.
“Rebecca did everything,” he said. “She did all the research, she put it together and then our older daughter, Ellie, did the illustrations. It really came about because of our passion for the Marine Corps and Toys for Tots.”
The Varicaks recognize that the program is a family experience and has the ability to teach something to everyone.
“Toys for Tots is close to our family,” said Lt. Col. Varicak. “Each year, we volunteer at the warehouse, and we did the kickoff ceremonies this year and last year. It teaches the kids how important it is and to help those in need.”
Rebecca couldn’t agree more.
“I worry that people just see Toys for Tots from the commercial aspect,” she says. “That they’ll ask themselves ‘what good is a toy going to do?’ But it’s about more than the toys. My perspective is, if we can ease the burden, then that family can afford to put food on the table or buy medicine. Also, it really shows that the community is committed to coming together – that they really do want to help.”
“We’re just trying to get the story out there,” she said. “People need to know that so many children are happier and know the spirit of Christmas and the goodness of their communities because of this program.”
The Toys for Tots Foundation is a not-for-profit public charity that the Department of Defense has authorized the U.S. Marine Corps to recognize and work with in connection with Toys for Tots matters. The Foundation’s mission is to raise funds to support the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.
The primary goal of Toys for Tots is to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens. Marine Toys for Tots serves over 700 local communities covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, distributing an average of 16 million toys to 7 million children each year.