When the Joy of Giving started 22 years ago, founder Nikki Davis had hopes of giving one family a Christmas they couldn’t afford.
Using money donated and collected in her office, she purchased clothing and toys, giving one child a Christmas morning when Santa couldn’t make it the year before.
This year, Christmas joy was given to 1,150 needy children throughout Collier County. With the support of donations and the Island Country Club’s fundraising, the Joy of Giving raised $70,000 to help more than 400 families in need.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Bob Galloway, store manager of the Collier Boulevard WalMart that hosted the event. “(Joy of Giving) helps different children in different school and raises money for these kids to have a fantastic time.”
Mountain bikes and bikes with frilly streamers, video games, Barbie dolls, Tonka trucks, sweaters and jeans were only a few of what some children had their eyes on. While one girl pointed out a pink bike with a basket to her mother, another child held on tight to a soft, fuzzy bear pillow.
To participate in the Joy of Giving, many children were nominated by their teachers, with siblings under the age of 17 allowed to participate as well. Each family received a card with a specific amount on it, with each child given an estimated $60 each.
Holding onto their parents hands, children walked around, eyes wide with excitement. Families began lining up outside the WalMart at midnight, with doors opening at 6:30 Saturday morning.
“I’m shopping for my little brothers and sister,” said Isabelle Pequeno, 14, who came to the store in the early morning with her mother. “It’s fun; bit chaotic. We got here at 5:45 a.m. and so far we’ve found everything we’re looking for.”
The annual event, which begins planning for next year the day after it takes place, aims to give parents and families hope during the holiday season. The Joy of Giving also hopes to empower parents by giving them ability to come into the store and find the gifts their children want, said Teresa Mrogenstern, board member of the Sports Club Naples, an after-school program which is also a sponsor of Saturday’s event.
As his sons walked along side, awake with anxiety from the night before, Jeff Jones of Naples said that, because of the Joy of Giving, the boys were able to get toys they wouldn’t have received otherwise.
“These guys couldn’t fall asleep last night, they were so excited,” Jones said. “We were able to get them games they wanted and needed clothes, too.”
Along with toys and clothes, families could also pick up a turkey to bring home for Christmas dinner. The Island Country Club, another large sponsor in the Joy of Giving, donated an additional $5,000 to purchase 400 turkeys for the event.
“Some people don’t know how big of a deal it is to go home with a turkey,” Davis said.
After a morning of organized and joyous chaos, children and families left the store, bags full of presents for Christmas. Misty Mixon, vice president of the Joy of Giving and administrator of Sports Club Naples, stood near the front, helping out where she could and greeting people as they left.
“It’s an amazing feeling … when you see the smile on a child’s face and the tears of relief on the parent’s face,” Mixon said, noting that their goal is to preserve the magic of Christmas for the kids.
“It is absolutely priceless,” she said.