It’s not Santa’s sleigh, but an incline stuffed with toys brings joy |
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Kevin Geppert, 52, of Tarentum, holds Cassius Hetherington, while riding the Duquesne Incline prior to loading Toys for Tots donations into a Uhaul on Dec. 11, 2018.

Cassius Hetherington spent Tuesday morning stuffing the Duquesne Incline with Barbie dolls, teddy bears and toy cars.

He rode the rail car up and down Mt. Washington and then turned the toys over to a Marine in dress blues.

The 4-year-old didn’t understand the meaning behind his efforts. But he sure had fun doing it.

“Big muscles,” Cassius said, lifting a Julius Jr. playhouse over his head as he walked through the incline lobby.

Cassius is the grandson of C. Harper Auto Group founder Casey Harper and the face of Inclined to Give, the dealership’s annual event in support of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots.

“He doesn’t really understand it yet,” said Cassius’ mother, Cassandra Hetherington. “He still believes in Santa. But he likes the idea of helping out.”

Shortly after 10 a.m., several members of the Harper family, including Cassius’ grandmother, Cheryl Harper; his uncle, Casey Harper Jr.; and his 7-month-old brother, Cillian Hetherington, climbed aboard car No. 2 with an assortment of donated toys. Cassius took a seat next to Kevin Geppert, a veteran with the Marine Corps League Allegheny Valley Detachment in Springdale.

“I want to sit by the toys,” Cassius announced.

“Oh, yeah, which one do you like?” Geppert asked.

Without hesitation, Cassius picked the Hot Wheels out of the pile.

“That one,” he declared, pointing.

This is Geppert’s second year working with C. Harper and Duquesne Incline Executive Manager Mark McNally. The dealership collects toys at its Connellsville and Rostraver locations for distribution in Allegheny, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Though no one could say just how many toys were collected in 2018, all agreed it was more than last year and certainly too many to fit on a single incline car. Most of the gifts were delivered to Marine Corps sites before the event.

“This is what has kept the program successful for 71 years,” Geppert said. “This is a great help to the cause.”

Toys for Tots has been collecting new, unwrapped toys for less fortunate children since 1947.

In that time, Marines have distributed 548 million toys to 251 million children across the country. So as much fun as it was to ride an incline full of donations, Marine Corps League District 10 Vice Commandant Fred Neilen said it can’t compare to distribution day, when registered families arrive at sites across the region to pick up toys for their own tots.

“You should see it,” Neilen said. “Families are crying. They say, ‘If not for you, our kids wouldn’t have a Christmas.’ It’s good to see the smiles on their faces.”

April Johnston is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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