SEFFNER – In 1993, Bill and Sheri Brown co-founded the Down Home Make You Feel Good All Over Cookson Hills Toy Run to bring Christmas joy to the 18 residents of the Cookson Hills Children’s Home in Seffner.
“I personally was in the same situation as many of the children we wanted to help,” said Sheri Brown. “After discussing it with Bill and some of our friends, 45 of us provided 18 children with Christmas presents and plenty of lifelong memories.”
In the ensuing 20 years, the Browns have helped more than 6,000 eastern Hillsborough County children, seniors, veterans and special-needs individuals. They are no longer affiliated with the Children’s Home (now called Family Ministries of Florida).
The rewards are enormous, said Sheri Brown, such as seeing “the family with three small children who walked 10 miles in 40-degree weather to the toy run so their children would have Christmas or the young adult who let you know that because someone, a total stranger, cared, they walked a different path. You’ve touched a soul, made a difference and ‘paid it forward.’”
The Cookson Hills Toy Run is financed by small businesses, individual donors and the Browns.
In the past 20 years, however, Bill Brown has suffered through several bouts with cancer and open-heart surgery.
“He is a survivor,” said Sheri Brown. “Because we have been so blessed, we’ve done all we can to keep the toy run alive. But we can no longer support the event. Either it pays for itself or it will become just a memory and all those who depend on it will once again be forgotten.”
There will be a fundraising spaghetti dinner, with a live auction and drawing, from 5 to 9 p.m. Oct. 12, at the American Legion Post 148, 7240 U.S. Hwy. 301 S., Riverview. The meal is free; drinks will be available for purchase. Donations for the toy run will be accepted.
“One hundred percent of all donations go to making the toy run happen,” said Sheri Brown. Most of the funds provide specialized gifts for special-needs individuals, seniors and veterans.
The Browns will host the toy run Dec. 1.
It will start at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, 3602 U.S. Hwy. 301, Tampa. The public may bring gifts for distribution, and there will be drawings, a live auction and breakfast.
At 1 p.m., a 20-mile caravan of motorcycles will head to the main event location, Evans Park, 1104 N. Kingsway Road, Seffner. Or people may go directly there on their own, if they prefer.
There will be a disc jockey, rides in a sleigh-on-wheels pulled by Samoyed dogs and an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Gift recipients apply and are invited to the main event, which averages about 1,500 volunteers and spectators and 400 recipients. A free meal and drinks are provided for recipients, one parent or guardian and volunteers.
Instead of the typical scenario where gifts are dropped off in a remote container and donors don’t know where they end up, at the toy run, donors hand out presents and get to witness recipients’ reactions.
Through Dec. 22, the Browns will process requests for gifts from school social workers and others. After that, any leftovers will be donated to Cynthia Pinckney Ministries and I AM Hope Café in Mango.
To volunteer, make a donation or become a sponsor, contact Sheri Brown at (813) 643-5758 or [email protected] For more information, visit www.cooksontoyrun.com.
Send news of community interest to Barbara Routen at [email protected]