A line of happy parents waited at the door, as the Wal-mart store at 6650 Collier Blvd. opened early, to let moms and dads choose gifts for their children at the 21st annual Joy Of Giving shopping day.
Volunteers and store employees worked together, starting at 5 a.m., to make sure every child was accounted for.
“You can see the happiness in their faces,” said Island Country Club volunteer Wes Blackwell. “These kids don’t have much. They wouldn’t have Christmas if it wasn’t for The Joy of Giving.”
Island Country Club donates and distributes 400 turkeys to each recipient family on The Joy of Giving Shopping Day, and also contributes the lion’s share of the hard cash raised.
“Feliz Navidad,” smiled a mom as Island Country Club employee and The Joy Of Giving Volunteer Adolpho Guttierez handed her a turkey.
“Gracias, muchas gracias,” Maria Marela said.
“Daddy doesn’t have work this year. Mommy is not working either. We have three boys; one is a baby. What you did for us today is very nice.”
Island Country Club employee Neil Platt helped hand out turkeys during the shopping day.
“I volunteer every year. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s exciting to see the happy faces of the kids. It makes you feel good,” said Platt. “My son’s helping here today, too.”
Platt handed a turkey to Joy Smith, mother of recipient children who attend Big Cypress Elementary School.
“The Joy of Giving sent a letter home from school one day, offering to help find things for the children for Christmas. It is very nice, and we are very grateful. It’s been a difficult year, and this helps. It is wonderful,” said Smith.
Jeff Crater, father of four recipient children, said: “We really appreciate everything they’ve done; it’s been a tough year. We have financial obligations that are overwhelming right now. So, this is really good.”
Lorena and Adrian Saucedo have five children who qualified for The Joy Of Giving event. Two are at Parkview Elementary School, the others are not yet school age.
“We’ve had a difficult time because of job layoffs this year,” said Saucedo. “I’m the only one working right now, and we don’t have money for things. This is really good help for us, and very nice that they are doing this. We are extremely thankful.”
Tommy Barfield student Brianna Monroe and her mom, Susan Skrzynski, attended shopping day.
“We live on Marco Island, because it has so much to offer the children,” said Skrzynski. “We love Tommy Barfield, it’s a wonderful school, and a wonderful community. I am so grateful to my parents, to the community, and to The Joy Of Giving, for giving my daughter a chance.
“I’m a single mom, and this is the first year on my own,” Skrzynski said. “I didn’t pick this; but, at least my daughter is safe, and I wanted to come back to Marco. Home is home.”
Among The Joy Of Giving volunteers are lots of Collier County School District teachers.
One told a story of a family whose children unexpectedly lost their father just days before the holidays, and the mother is expecting a child. Volunteers are personally taking care of this family.
All the money raised throughout the year by The Joy of Giving — founded 21 years ago by Nikki Davis and a few volunteers — is used only to purchase gifts for the children. Every other aspect of this organization is provided for by donations.
Countless volunteers work with schools, churches and victim’s advocacy groups to identify qualified children, and evaluate their situations. No one in the organization is paid.
The East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District crew donated their time to show the children a fire truck up close.
“It’s funny,” observed Lt. Todd Nugent, “The kids are so wide-eyed when they’re far away. Then, when they get up close, they get real shy.”
“I am so proud to be part of this charity,” said Davis. “We raised $78,000 this year, which is the most we’ve ever raised, in spite of the economy. Every single penny goes to the 1,050 children. We want the children to know that people care, we want to give them faith, to inspire them, as they inspire us.”
Davis made special mention of her coordinator, Misty Mixon, who works year-round to make the event a success.
“Without her, it would just fade away,” Davis said.
For more information, visit joyofgivingchildren.org.