Cadets play Santa for children in need

Falcons forward Jeff Hajner and defender Brad Sellers rein in toys from the "Toy Trick" after the Falcons scored their first goal of the game against American International College Dec. 5, 2009, at the Air Force Academy's Cadet Ice Arena. The Falcons have distributed more than 5,000 toys to children in local hospitals and clinics during the Toy Trick's 10 years of operations. Hajner, a senior, is from Las Vegas. Sellers, a junior, is from Centenniel, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/J. Rachel Spencer)

Jeff Hajner and Brad Sellers rein in toys from the "Toy Trick," an event to gather toys for less fortunate children, after the Falcons scored their first goal of the game against American International College Dec. 5, 2009, at the Air Force Academy's Cadet Ice Arena, Colo. The Falcons have distributed more than 5,000 toys to children in local hospitals and clinics during the Toy Trick's 10 years of operations. Cadet Hajner, a senior, is a Falcons forward from Las Vegas. Cadet Sellers, a junior, is a defender from Centenniel, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/J. Rachel Spencer)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cadets are donning their elf hats this holiday season to brighten the lives of less fortunate children.

Cadets sponsored the "Toy Trick" at the Falcons hockey team's match against American International College in the Cadet Ice Arena Dec. 5. After the Falcons scored their first goal, fans tossed donated toys onto the ice.

The Toy Trick program started 10 years ago and has collected about 5,000 toys for local children from 1999 to 2008. Cadet 2nd Class Derrick Burnett estimated Saturday's toss at about 1,000 toys.

The toys will be distributed to children's hospitals in the Colorado Springs area near Christmas. Members of the Falcons hockey team will visit the hospitals in hockey jerseys and sign posters and will maneuver large wheel barrows laden with toys from which children may choose one or two.

"This is a great opportunity to get our face out in the community and show our support," Cadet Burnett said. "The holiday trip to the hospital is always a blast, and we love talking to the kids about sports and seeing them laugh and smile."

Cadets in Section 8 have also decorated and placed collection boxes for toys in each squadron through the Toys for Tots program.

"This is a very popular project for cadets and usually with a very good turnout, especially because of the holiday atmosphere," said Cadet 2nd Class Steve Kim, co-coordinator of the project with Cadet 1st Class Michael Masiello. "I volunteered to be a squadron rep because not only did it help children in need, but it also boosted morale and holiday spirit in the squadron."

Toys for Tots began as a pilot project conducted by a Marine Reservist in 1947. Over its 62 years, Toys for Tots has collected about 400 million toys for about 188 million youngsters.

Section 8 runs the Toys for Tots drive at the Academy every year for the Marines Toys for Tots Foundation. Cadet Kim said he wants to open future years' toy drives to Academy staff and faculty members.