APOLLO BEACH – Santa Claus has lots of special elves helping him each year during the South Shore Toys for Tots drive. More than 100 area businesses are expected to pitch in again this year to help the Jolly Old Soul bring a Christmas morning to kids who might not otherwise have it.
Apollo Beach businessman Don Pearson of Pearson Capital Inc. started the local campaign eight years ago with the help of his Account Manager Ann Hathaway. They’re the ones who encourage area business owners to host collection boxes. Businesses, in turn, urge their customers to drop off new, unwrapped toys to help fill them.
“Our goal is to ensure no child wakes up without toys under the Christmas tree,” Pearson said. “I’m always impressed how the entire South Shore community comes together to help us. It’s very gratifying.”
Hathaway said toys are requested for kids ages 12 and younger, especially babies, toddlers and pre-teens. Cash donations are always welcome, she said, because the money is used to buy toys in under-fulfilled age categories.
This year’s toy drive is already under way and will culminate Dec. 15 at a collection party from 3 to 7 p.m. at The Alley, 10221 Big Bend Road, Riverview. That’s a new location, Pearson said.
For the past seven years the party was held at Ruskin Memorial Post 6287, but the number of donations and people attending has outgrown the facility.
“We truly appreciate the support the VFW has shown us all these years,” Pearson said. “We simply need more room.”
South Shore’s collection party is one of the largest efforts in Hillborough County, said campaign coordinator retired Marine Maj. Ed Zaleski.
“It’s always among the top three collection events that pull in toys for us,” he said. The others are the Tampa Bay Bucs/Lightning and the postal service.
The party is open to the public and includes free food, music by DJ Gary and a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Admission is one new, unwrapped toy.
Marines from the 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion in Tampa will be at the party to meet and greet guests, load the toys and then deliver them to a Tampa warehouse to be sorted by age group and gender. Afterward they will be redistributed to several South Shore distribution points to be given away to low-income families who registered with their school social workers or online at www.toysfortots.org.
Last year, the South Shore toy drive filled two, 26-foot Penske trailers, and the expectation is to exceed that this time around. There’s no doubt that will happen, Pearson said, because this year the Walmart store in Wimauma has agreed to place Toys for Tots boxes outside its doors on three weekends leading up to the party: Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1; Dec. 6-8; and Dec. 13-15. The hours are 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays; and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
“We want to fill a big moving truck,” said James Floyd, assistant store manager. “Walmart gave us permission this year, and Toys for Tots is an amazing charity. It gives so much back to the community, and we feel getting involved is the right thing to do.”
All participating businesses are asked to drop off their filled boxes at the event or to have already arranged prior pick-up. Like Walmart, some are hosting special events to encourage folks to drop off toys. S&S Tacos, 10664 U.S. 301 S., Riverview, will host its 5th annual Toys For Tots – Toys For Tunes event from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday. And ServiceMaster 24 Hour, Alvarez Company and Accurate Air are sponsoring the next SouthShore Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours on Dec. 4 at Circle’s Restaurant in Apollo Beach and asking everyone attending to bring a new toy. Marines will be on hand at both events.
Toys for Tots began in 1947, when retired Marine Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. According to the Toys for Tots Foundation website, the program has collected and distributed over 469 million toys to more than 216 million children since its inception.
WHERE TO DONATE
The following is a partial list of drop-off locations for Toys for Tots donations:
H&R Block, 151 Harbor Village Lane
BMO Harris Bank, 5431 U.S. 41 N.
SouthShore Chamber, 137 Harbor Village Lane
Victoria’s 5th Ave. Salon, 6512 U.S. 41 N.
Kimi’s Ice Cream, 143 Harbor Village Lane
Rachel’s Family Salon, 5473 U.S. 41 N.
Kids R Kids Southshore, 13151 Kings Lake Drive
East Coast Pizza, 13340 Lincoln Road
Riverview Mortgage, 10035 Water Works Lane
S&S Tacos, 10664 U.S. 301 S.
The Alley, 10221 Big Bend Road
Summerfield Crossings Golf Club, 13050 Summerfield Blvd.
Beanie’s Family Sports Grill, 2002 U.S. 41 S., Ruskin
Champion Self-Storage, 2809 E. College Ave., Ruskin
Mango Joe’s, 2626 College Ave. E.
Ruskin Animal Hospital, 715 U.S. 41 S.
Harriet’s Flowers, 226 College Ave. W.
Sun City Center
Sun City Center Chamber, 1651 Sun City Center Plaza
Sun City Center Security Patrol, 1005 Pebble Beach Blvd. N.
American Momentum Bank, 131 Pebble Beach Blvd. S.
Freedom Plaza, 1010 American Eagle Blvd.
Curves, 761 Cortaro Drive
Sun City Center Funeral Home, 1851 Rickenbacker Drive
To find other locations near you, call (813) 641-7575.