THE WHITE HOUSE — The first lady gave a “thank you” to the children of U.S. service members at a toy-sorting event Wednesday for the Marine Corps Reserve program Toys for Tots.

“You may not hear this a lot, but kids have something important to teach us grownups, especially military kids like you,” Jill Biden said. “You teach us how to be brave, even when we’re scared. You teach us how to make friends, even when we don’t know anyone. And you teach us how to reach out a hand to other people in need.”

It was the first year Biden has hosted her annual Toys for Tots event at the White House rather than at a local military base. It’s a longstanding tradition for first ladies to hold events with Toys for Tots around the holidays.

Biden, herself the daughter of a World War II Navy veteran, has made supporting military families one of her priorities as first lady.

Before her remarks, the children had the opportunity to skate on a small ice rink on the White House’s South Lawn. A few Marines clad in dress blues, with ice skates rather than corfam shoes, joined their kids.

Some kids appeared excited to meet another celebrity in attendance: Gunny Bear, the larger-than-life teddy bear Toys for Tots mascot who was generous with high-fives.

Following Biden’s speech, the children sorted presents for Toys for Tots.

Since 1947, Toys for Tots has distributed 652 million toys to 291 million children, according to its website.

Biden said the program brings “magic, wonder and joy to children in need.”

Marine Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks came up with Toys for Tots in 1947 after his wife, Diane, told him she wanted to donate handcrafted dolls to an agency that would give them to children in need, according to the program’s website.

No such agency existed, so Hendricks and the Marines in his Reserve unit collected and distributed 5,000 toys themselves that year.

Toys for Tots became a nationwide Marine Corps Reserve project the following year.

Retired Marine Corps Col. Ted Silvester, vice president for marketing and development for Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, recently said there is much want in 2023, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

“The need is significant,” he said in a news release. “We’re getting a lot of requests to all of our chapters.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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