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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 29, 2004

A colorful caravan of caring

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Wiley West knows that not every kid will have presents or even a Christmas tree this holiday season.

Wiley West checks some of the gifts that he delivered in his pickup for Toys for Tots, which benefits thousands of needy Hawai'i kids.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

All the more motivation for West to fill the back of his cherry-red 1954 Dodge pickup with bikes, balls, dolls and other toys yesterday and link up with about 200 other automobile enthusiasts for a car caravan and gift donation to benefit Toys for Tots.

"Kids are important," said West, said a 61-year-old electronic technician from Pearl City.

West joined other volunteers yesterday for a caravan that started on Magic Island and ended in the parking lot next to the Waikiki Shell. More than 30 car clubs participated in the event. The United States Marine Corps, the agency that administers Toys for Tots, collected almost 3,000 toys and canned foods.

"There are kids who aren't fortunate enough to get toys for Christmas because their families might be struggling some," said Gunnery Sgt. Todd Manning, a 38-year-old Marine originally from Fort Wayne, Ind. "We make sure they get a toy."

Manning, who coordinates Toys for Tots on every island except Hawai'i, said the program provides toys for almost 35,000 kids. The Big Island, which administers its own program, takes care of about 6,000 kids.

Since 1947, Marines have collected and distributed toys across the country for needy children. Toys for Tots campaigns are conducted annually in nearly 400 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

As the caravan weaved its way through Waikiki yesterday, old-school rides like Kale Grace's 1968 El Camino paced newer cars like Marshall Lum's Toyota Scion, a mini-truck that looks like a bento box on wheels. Speakers rattled as many cars pumped loud hip-hop music and engines revved as some drivers jockeyed for position.

At the end of the caravan, in the parking lot next to the Waikiki Shell, cars pulled up one by one to the back of a large container truck where Manning and other volunteers accepted donations. Parking spaces quickly filled up as drivers posed for pictures with other cars and took time to mingle with one another.

Everyone participating yesterday said that providing presents for needy kids is a great thing to do during the Holidays.

"It's a season of giving," said Will Higashi, a 53-year-old Manoa resident who works as a manager for Kuakini Health System and drives a Scion. "We're giving back to the community."

Lawton Suganuma, a 50-year-old Pearl City resident who drives a red 1977 Corvette, said it is a good thing to help the less fortunate.

"It's for the kids. It's a nice thing to do," said Suganuma, who works as a courier.

Kale Grace, a 65-year-old Waipahu man who works in commercial real estate, said the problem of poor kids is tough to deal with during the holidays.

"We get so many underprivileged kids and families," said Grace. "It's a worthy cause to help the kids out."

About 35.8 million Americans lived below the poverty line last year, or about 12.5 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up 12.1 percent from 2002.

There were 12.9 million children living in poverty last year, or 17.6 percent of the 18-and-under population. That was an increase of about 800,000 from 2002, when 16.7 percent of all children were in poverty.

The Census Bureau's definition of poverty varies by the size of the household. For example, the threshold for a family of four was an annual income of $18,810, while for two people it was $12,015.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.