Hundreds gather for Toys for Tots
Mothers, fathers and children gathered at the ...
Christmas is a week away but parents were lining up on Friday to make sure their children get what they want from Santa Claus aka The Collier County Toys for Tots Campaign.
The Marines-sponsored charity organization will be distributing toys this morning at a former Devoe Automotive lot, and some parents showed up more than 24 hours in advance.
“My husband is going to bring me a blanket, and bring me something to eat. He’ll go home with the kids while I sleep here,” said Carla Ramirez, who got in line outside the dealership at 11:30 a.m. Friday to ensure her two children a present-filled Christmas.
The toys won’t be distributed until 7 a.m. today, but some arrived as early as 3 a.m. Friday, with more than 100 in line by 7 p.m. Friday.
“If you’re not, you’ll be waiting in line until 5 p.m.,” said mother of two Tracey Gordy of the reason for lining up early.
Inside the former car dealership, at 2601 Airport Road, more than 15,000 toys are on tables and in boxes stacked to the ceiling. It’s a child’s heaven, a dream world that also includes a garage filled with more than 400 bicycles.
While few children will get to experience it, 4,000 needy children will receive three gifts and stocking stuffers from its mountainous cache this Christmas, all of it due to the hard work of the Collier County Toys for Tots Campaign and citizens who donated presents and cash.
As the line grew longer, volunteers inside continued to collect, sort and inventory the stash as a truckload of toys came in from Oakridge Middle School at about 4 p.m.
Data collected during a three-day registration period held in early December allows campaign coordinators to plan based on the ages and genders of the children. If they’re short on toys for girls between the ages of 3 and 5, they’ll know about it.
“We’ve learned a lot about toys,” said Sorting Coordinator Marian Bray. “A lot of what we didn’t have, we went out and shopped for with cash donations.”
Just then, a racket came from the stuffed animal area. Everyone looked over to volunteer Susan Johnston, who had a stunned look on her face.
“What did you do,” asks Brady.
“I was playing with the rocking horses,” replies Johnston.
There are tea sets, Trouble, Toy Story 3, and Transformer toys. The tables display Tonka trucks, Mighty Wheels, 24-packs of Play-Doh and Mr. Potato Head. Children will unwrap MP3 players, CD players, fire engines and a four-foot tall stuffed Kangaroo with a pouch. They’ll spend years playing with Lego sets, Connect 4, Battleship and Blue Angels kites.
“They give really good toys,” said Ramirez, who was laid off from a serving job earlier this year.
In the dealership’s former garage, the bicycles are separated by gender and age, as are all the toys.
“We kind of go begging, and this year the Devoe family was kind enough to let us use this facility that they weren’t using,” Campaign Coordinator Joe Johnston said before unveiling the bikes.
There were 200 pink, tassle-laden lady bikes on one side, and 200 black and silver tough-guy cruisers on the other. Auto Precision on Taylor Road and the Hilton Naples Engineering Department put together 100 of the bikes, said Johnston.
This year’s toy haul was looking to end up close to last year’s total of 18,000 toys, said Johnston. But, he said the number of registered children had grown by 25 percent.
Daniel Garcia, the youngest of the veteran Marines organizing the campaign along with their wives and friends said the economy has a lot to do with the turn out this year and in years past.
“The majority of these people are farmers drawn by their families here because of the better life,” said Garcia of the crowd. “They can’t afford toys.”
The Marine motto Semper Fi is emblazoned on the hats and shirts of the men as they work on the Corps-sponsored campaign, Johnston even has the Semper Fi March as his cell phone ringer. The motto represents the dedication and loyalty to “Corps and Country,” even after leaving active service.
“It’s ‘cus the Marines have wives,” joked Erika Kemp before another sorting routine. Kemp’s husband, Robert Kemp, is the Commandant of the Marine Corps League of Naples.
The campaign began in California in 1947, and has grown to more than 700 locations nationwide, with 400 million toys being distributed in 62 years. Garcia said some World War II veterans participated this year.
“At that age, he should be at home, but what is he doing? He’s watching over the parking lot,” said Garcia, pointing to a WWII veteran. “The values of the Marine Corps get passed onto the civilian population.”
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