After 25 years, Robert "Bob" Harris will step down as local coordinator of Toys for Tots. During his time served, he provided the children of Stark County with more than a million toys.
MASSILLON If Robert Harris had a long white beard, you might call him Santa Claus.
Christmastime is Harris’ busiest season as local coordinator of Toys for Tots. He and his "elves" sort and distribute toys in a Massillon-based workshop.
All is calm when Christmas Day comes around. Each year, Harris starts the day by enjoying a cup of coffee with his wife in their Hartville home.
Though no one can hear them, the couple says a prayer for the families of Stark County.
"Merry Christmas," they say with a smile.
The retired U.S. Marine has served as the local coordinator of Toys for Tots for 25 years and will have delivered more than a million toys to local children by the end of the season. The 78-year-old plans to step down from his duties in January after final paperwork is completed for the year.
"I love it because it helps so many children," Harris said. "Without Toys for Tots, millions of children would not have a Christmas."
When Harris volunteered to be the Stark County coordinator of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots in 1994, there weren’t many local chapters in Northeast Ohio.
Kari Harris, who has helped her grandfather with the organization for at least 15 years, said donated items were stored in her grandfather’s basement when the Stark County chapter began. Toys for Tots has had a number of homes since then and is now based in Massillon.
"It just went from there," Bob Harris said. "I just stuck with it. I kept doing it because I love helping the children."
Harris, who is nicknamed "The General," works alongside his granddaughter, who has earned the nickname "The Little General." The duo wore matching shirts with the titles printed in red glitter as they sorted toys earlier this month.
Kari Harris oversees the sorting of the toys in the warehouse while her grandfather handles all the paperwork, she said. A troop of women assist Harris to sort the toys by gender and age group.
"I figured it would bring us closer together," Harris said. "We spend a lot of time together this part of the year."
Because Kari Harris is not a Marine, she cannot take over the local Toys for Tots from her grandfather, she said. However, she plans to continue her work with the organization by heading up the sorting as usual.
Jeff Weber, a Marine who served in Desert Storm, will take over the paperwork aspect from Bob Harris. The 1980 Jackson High School grad has been helping the Toys for Tots effort for the past five years.
Weber decided to join the Marine Corps League McKinley Detachment #277 with the vision of getting involved with Toys for Tots.
"I think that you get to the point in your life ... where you just want to do something that matters," Weber said.
Weber credits three women — including Kari Harris — for organizing the toys at the warehouse.
Bob Harris will continue acting as the local coordinator until Jan. 15, which is the deadline to send the report to the foundation.
The season kicked off in September when Harris attended a conference in Leesburg, Va. and purchased $25,000 new toys for the children of Stark County. Collection began in October and ended Dec. 14.
Each year the toys are distributed to one of six nonprofit agencies, including Salvation Army and A Community Christmas, which Harris oversees and will continue to serve as president after his retirement from Toys for Tots.
"I've made a legacy that I didn't even know I made in stark County," Harris said. "I’m almost 80 years old. I think it’s time for the young people to step up and take over the responsibility."
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