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Marine helicopter picks up toys collected by students for children in need

  • Toys for tots and mascots
    Toys for tots and mascots
    The Griffin helps load toys collected by W&M Flex MBA students into a Marine helicopter at the Williamsburg Jamestown Airport on Thursday.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Flex MBA effort
    Flex MBA effort
    Erin Miller (left) shares a laugh with Maj. Paul Minihan (right) as they brings toys to the helicopter. The two Flex MBA students organized the toy-collection drive.
    Phoot by Stephen Salpukas
  • A pilot and student
    A pilot and student
    Maj. Paul Minihan poses with the Griffin for a photo. Minihan is a Marine reservist who is also the president of the MBA Flex Program's student association.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Cleared for takeoff
    Cleared for takeoff
    The Griffin bids the Marine pilots farewell as they prepare to takeoff for Naval Station Norfolk.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

Who needs Santa and his reindeer when you have a Marine helicopter and the Griffin?

A Marine CH-46E touched down at the Williamsburg Jamestown Airport on Thursday afternoon to pick up Toys-for-Tots donations collected by students in William & Mary’s Part-Time Flex MBA program.

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The Griffin, wearing a floppy Santa hat on one of its ears, joined the students as they loaded dozens of toys onto the aircraft to be delivered to Naval Station Norfolk, where Marines will sort and distribute them next week.

“It feels really good to provide a smile to children who maybe wouldn’t get one over Christmas,” said Erin Miller, a student in the program. “It’s nice to give back and do something for them.”

The helicopter pickup was the brainchild of Maj. Paul Minihan, a Marine reservist who is also the president of the MBA Flex Program’s student association. He and Miller, who is vice president of the association, collected the toys at William & Mary’s Peninsula Center, which is located in the Oyster Point section of Newport News. The two were looking for outreach activities to do in the fall and spring and decided on Toys for Tots because of Paul’s connection to the Marines. Miller’s husband is also a retired military member.

“Toys for Tots is an organization that was started in 1947, and the purpose is to deliver toys to needy families,” Minihan said. “Here in the Hampton Roads area, we take about 60,000 toys, and we distribute them to 16,000 needy families.”

As a helicopter pilot with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774, Minihan is required to maintain a certain number of flight hours and often conducts those in the Williamsburg area. Therefore, the pickup was simply incorporated into one of those missions. Lt. Col. Dominic Defazio, commanding officer of 774, also participated in the pickup, greeting the Griffin with a high-five and helping the mascot as it loaded dolls, soccer balls and even a plush Elmo into the helicopter.

Once the helicopter was loaded, Minihan climbed aboard and took off with his fellow Marines in a rush of wind. The chopper circled the airport once, and Minihan waved to a small crowd that had gathered below to see it off.

But flying off into the sunset is not the end of this story. The association is continuing its toy drive through next week. On the main campus, donation boxes are available in Miller Hall on the first floor in the common area.