Collier Toys for Tots give-away Saturday benefits estimated 3,000 kids

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Blanca Dehoyos, left, and Ana Maturino sit bundled up in blankets as they wait in line for the Marine Corps' Toys For Tots, where more than 1,700 families received Christmas presents Saturday.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE, Copyright: Greg Kahn / Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Blanca Dehoyos, left, and Ana Maturino sit bundled up in blankets as they wait in line for the Marine Corps' Toys For Tots, where more than 1,700 families received Christmas presents Saturday.

— Days from her due date, Epseia Diaz still needed to make sure Christmas happens for her three older children, even if their new little sister interrupts the festivities.

After a few hours in line, she and about 1,700 other parents and guardians walked away Saturday from a Toys for Tots distribution in East Naples with bags of new toys.

"It's a blessing," said the Golden Gate Estates mother, picking up a bike for one of her sons, ages 7, 10, and 13.

The annual toy drive, run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve for families in need, is a well-oiled machine.

After collection ended mid-week, volunteers sorted race cars and footballs, MP3 players, dolls and stuffed animals into age-appropriate piles inside a defunct car showroom on Airport-Pulling Road near U.S. 41 East. The boxes, each with 25-30 toys, were stacked six-high in some parts of the building behind volunteers, who replenished the stock on the table as quantities ran low.

The goal is to have the first person have the same choices in gifts as the last one in line.

"We've been doing this for 17-18 years. We've got it to a point where we know exactly what we need to do," said Scott Richardson, a former Marine who helps run the event locally.

Organizers said there already were people in line Friday night, although the doors wouldn't open until 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

To participate, families needed to prove by early December that they had minor children and qualified as low-income, then show any photo ID the day of the event. Volunteers turned away several people Saturday who hadn't registered.

Each child received three "major" toys, in addition to smaller gifts.

Students from Golden Gate and Lely high schools' ROTC programs wore Santa hats and played elf, escorting the parents — some who waited three to four hours in line — through choosing big gifts, stocking stuffers, board games and books.

The teen volunteers then helped ferry oversize trash bags filled with toys to the parents' cars.

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Ruth Carvajal, right, gives a thankful hug to Sherri Harp after Harp wished Carvajal a Merry Christmas at the Marine Corps' Toys For Tots event on Saturday. Carvajal came to get presents for her grandchildren. "I'm vary thankful for what they do," Carvajal said. The event drew more than 1,700 less-fortunate families so they could get presents for Christmas. People started to line up on Friday and stayed throughout the night to be let in when doors opened at 6:30 a.m.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE, Copyright: Greg Kahn / Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Ruth Carvajal, right, gives a thankful hug to Sherri Harp after Harp wished Carvajal a Merry Christmas at the Marine Corps' Toys For Tots event on Saturday. Carvajal came to get presents for her grandchildren. "I'm vary thankful for what they do," Carvajal said. The event drew more than 1,700 less-fortunate families so they could get presents for Christmas. People started to line up on Friday and stayed throughout the night to be let in when doors opened at 6:30 a.m.

"It feels good. You see people happy," said Maria Espinoza, 14, a Golden Gate freshman.

The majority of the people in line were women who, like Dottie Brown, count on the toys to make Christmas memorable.

After picking out a plastic truck for 5-year-old son, Damian, she also got one of the more than 400 donated bikes to give him on Christmas morning.

"I told him I was 'gonna go see Santa Claus and give him the list," Brown said of her ruse to get out of the house Saturday morning.

As Julie Campbell oversaw the stocking stuffers section, the volunteer and mother to two Marines said she watched anxious mothers wind their way through the toys.

"You can just tell the moms are desperate," she noted.

Any gifts left over Saturday will be given to area churches and foster children in the next two days.

Organizers expected 3,000 Collier County children to benefit from Saturday's event.

In 2011, Toys for Tots distributed nearly $222 million in toys around the country.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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