BILLINGS — On Sunday, Families gathered around the autumn foliage at Riverfront Park in Billings to pose a portrait taken by two local photographers at the price of one unwrapped new toy to benefit Billings Toys For Tots.
The event was started in 2015 by Billings Melanie Steiner. Steiner said the event is a way to get photographers involved in the community.
"I always wanted to get involved with the community and want them to get involved just helping each other out. It’s always been a big passion of mine, especially with kids. I love what the Marines stand for and what they do. My sister was a marine. So it was just kind of one of those things that I just love," Steiner said.
Dawn Longie, with Amelia Inspired Photography was also on hand at the event to take photos.
Steiner said the event is a win-win for the families and Toys for Tots, because a family photograph is priceless.
“Just kind of a win - win. You get a family photo and you are giving to the community. That was just an idea that I had long ago in my head and I just thought, oh, this is great. And the Marines love it," Steiner said.
For the Ussleman family, of Laurel, the photos in the park event is a yearly tradition. They've attended to get a photo taken every year the event has been put on.
"You see a smile from the little kids. I like it. They receive a very good present," said Martha Usselman.
Another Laurel mother, Melanie Ring, was at the event to have a photo of her family taken. She said she has a personal connection to Toys for Tots.
“I was a single mom. They helped us one year for Christmas. I don’t know. It’s sentimental. They helped us when we needed it and now that we can do a little more for the community, we are going to," Ring said.
The event kicks off the fund raising season for Billings Toys for Tots. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program collects toys to give out to Yellowstone County families and organizations who submit an applicaiton.
Staff Sgt. Sean Arndt is the new coordinator for the program this year. He said moved to Montana in 2020 from Wisconsin to take a diesel mechanic job at the Billings Armed Forces Reserve Center.
“This is a great community. The county of Yellowstone and the city of Billings and all the surrounding cities, it’s incredible how much they come out and help each other," Arndt said.
Arndt set a lofty goal this year to double the toys the program received last year.
“The supply that I would like, it’s too early to tell. We have a good start. We always like to start the year with a little bit from the last year. We’ve got a good start there, but I want to take last year and blow it out of the water. Last year, people really came out because of the pandemic. So I think this year we can double it," Arndt said.
People can donate toys by dropping them into white boxes found at 65 businesses in the Billings Community. People can also donate money online through the Billings Toys for Tots website, find a link by clicking here.