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    PEELER: O'Brien Hopes for Double the Donations


    RALEIGH, N.C. Tom O’Brien and his football team are doing what they can, by scoring more touchdowns.

    On Saturday, the NC State coach would like to see Wolfpack football fans double their donations from last year to the Coca-Cola/Harris Teeter Toys for Tots drive at the NC State-Wake Forest football game.

    O’Brien, a former U.S. Marine officer, is on the national board of directors for the Marine Corps Reserve-sponsored charity, which distributes new toys to children all over the country who might not otherwise receive anything for the holidays.

    Last year, Coca-Cola donated $14,500, fans brought 1,400 new, unwrapped presents during a single-day toy drive and Harris Teeter collected hundreds of additional toys in donation boxes at select Triangle stores. With other cash gifts and in-kind donations collected at last year's NC State-UNC football game, the total amount raised approached $50,000.

    That went a long way in helping area Marines to distribute some 75,000 toys in the nine-county Triangle region alone, a double-digit percentage increase from the previous year.

    But that was just the first effort and O'Brien is looking for the program to grow more this year.

    “Last year, even as we worked extremely hard to get out the message for fans to bring what they could, some fans still didn’t realize the drive was going on,” O’Brien said. “We started talking about it about a week ago on my radio show, and I think people know to look for it now.

    “If we can double our efforts from last year that would be fantastic.”

    Fans can bring their new, unwrapped toy or cash donations to the Wolfpack FanZone in front of the RBC Center from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., prior to Saturday’s NC State-Wake Forest game. Cash donations will also be accepted at all Carter-Finley entry gates. All fans who donate a toy or give a cash donation will receive a coupon for a free 2-liter Coke product.

    O’Brien and his team are trying to do their part, as well. With three games remaining, the Wolfpack has scored 22 touchdowns, including three in Saturday’s 27-17 victory at Duke. Last year, the Pack scored 29 touchdowns in 12 games, earning the drive a $14,500 donation from Coca-Cola.

    “We hope to improve that number, to do our part,” O’Brien said. “Certainly, we don’t go into games thinking we have to score X-amount of touchdowns for Toys for Tots, but we will do anything we can to help.”

    Including buying the toys. Last December, more than a dozen NC State football players and assistant coach Jason Swepson traveled to a Cary Wal-Mart and purchased more than 3,000 new toys to give to Triangle-area kids during a two-hour shopping spree. A similar pre-holiday free-for-all is scheduled for this December.

    “I wasn’t able to make it to last year’s buying event, because I was out on the road recruiting,” O’Brien said. “But Coach Swepson said the players were just like little kids in a candy store, to be able to go buy toys for kids.

    “For me, that’s what this is all about giving back. That’s what we are trying to get accomplished with this football team, to let them know that they are privileged and they need to give something back to the community. This is just one way they can help.”

    Others on campus are helping as well. Last December, the staff in Chancellor James L. Oblinger’s office decided to skip exchanging holiday presents. Everyone in the office, including the Chancellor, made donations to the Toys for Tots program instead. They plan to do the same this year.

    The participants in the NC State club sports programs also began collecting for Toys for Tots on Nov. 1, and have encouraged members of the campus recreation department, the Carmichael Gym complex and the Physical Education student team members to place their toys in a large red box outside the club sports office in Carmichael Gym.

    “We have already had great responses,” said assistant director for club sports Mary Yemma. “I am excited to see how many club participants will get involved and in the holiday spirit.”

    University Dining will be collecting new, unwrapped toys at these on-campus dining facilities: Clark and Fountain Dining halls, the Talley Student Center and the Wolves Den.

    And the Wolfpack Club will collect new toys and cash donations at its offices on Trinity Road.

    This is clearly an effort that means much to O’Brien, who is in his second year on the national board. He tries to attend every meeting that doesn’t interfere with practice or games in the spring and the fall. And he’s already seen significant growth in a program that dates back to 1947.

    “Even on the short time I have been on the board, the growth of the national sponsors who want to get involved in such a great program has been impressive,” O’Brien said. “But I also know that this program thrives on participation at the local level, and we would like to do our part to help raise money, awareness and lots of toys to give away.”

    You may contact Tim Peeler at



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