25 years of 'Giving': Charity organzation makes the holidays a little brighter

Mailin Cardenas, 8, takes a spin on her new bicycle with sister Karely, 11, thanks to the Joy of Giving, which assisted parents in purchasing Christmas presents for more than 1,000 Collier County children whose families were experiencing various hardships, including longterm poverty and recent health or financial emergencies. Kelly Farrell/Eagle Correspondent

Mailin Cardenas, 8, takes a spin on her new bicycle with sister Karely, 11, thanks to the Joy of Giving, which assisted parents in purchasing Christmas presents for more than 1,000 Collier County children whose families were experiencing various hardships, including longterm poverty and recent health or financial emergencies. Kelly Farrell/Eagle Correspondent

Nicole Cardenas, 2, is fitted with a new helmet to go with her first bicycle purchased by her mother Keydi Cardenas thanks to generosity from supporters of the Joy of Giving, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in working to make sure that every Collier County child gets Christmas. Kelly Farrell/Eagle Correspondent

Nicole Cardenas, 2, is fitted with a new helmet to go with her first bicycle purchased by her mother Keydi Cardenas thanks to generosity from supporters of the Joy of Giving, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in working to make sure that every Collier County child gets Christmas. Kelly Farrell/Eagle Correspondent

Junior Cardenas, 13, prepares to ride out of Walmart on his new bicycle as his mom, Keydi Cardenas, checks the brakes. The Joy of Giving’s 25th Anniversary was a special year for Junior and more than 1,000 other Collier County children who received Christmas gifts from their parents with the help of the nonprofit, which raised more than $80,000 this year. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

Junior Cardenas, 13, prepares to ride out of Walmart on his new bicycle as his mom, Keydi Cardenas, checks the brakes. The Joy of Giving’s 25th Anniversary was a special year for Junior and more than 1,000 other Collier County children who received Christmas gifts from their parents with the help of the nonprofit, which raised more than $80,000 this year. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

As the sun was rising over a Walmart east of Naples on Saturday, something extraordinary was happening inside.

Hundreds of Collier County parents, who for a variety of health and financial reasons wouldn’t otherwise get to experience selecting Christmas presents for their children, were empowered by the Joy of Giving, a nonprofit in its 25th year serving up Christmas opportunities to Collier County families.

“It looks like Black Friday in there, but the feeling is completely different,” said Chairman of the Island Country Club Foundation Wes Blackwell, who was standing outside in the Walmart parking lot that was packed with cars before 6 a.m.

Blackwell paused between handing out turkeys to each participating family as they exited the store located on Collier Boulevard south of U.S. 41.

“There are so many sad stories in there,” he said.

Families’ stories included longterm poverty, the death of a parent, domestic violence and sudden financial struggles stemming from a variety of reasons, ranging from losing a job to a recent divorce.

The details of these stories couldn’t be seen amongst the shoppers, but as Blackwell said, they could be felt.

Mothers shed silent tears selecting surprise presents they didn’t think they’d be able to give to their children this year.

The Island Country Club Foundation was a large part of making it all happen for the parents and more than 1,000 children who received toys from the Joy of Giving.

The Island Country Club Foundation, through members of the Marco Island community, donated about half of the money raised to make Christmas happen in homes that could use the cheer.

“Every child deserves a Christmas,” said Blackwell.

More than $80,000 was raised this year for the Joy of Giving, which is a unique nonprofit in that all costs are covered by the volunteers who participate. Not $1 donated goes to administrative costs of any kind.

Some parents needed help shopping physically, others needed help to add up the cost of their items and elves would appear to assist. All of the money given to the parents by the Joy of Giving was to be spent that day on age-appropriate items for the children.

Mailin Cardenas, 8, of Golden Gate, sat on a bike with pink and white streamers on the handlebars.

She had a smile with a one-sided dimple that invited smiles in return from other shoppers as she took a few spins on the pedals.

Riding back to her family all seemed well. Sister Karely, 11, was clutching a bicycle as she stood near the cart. Inside the shopping cart was sister Nicole, 2, with a helmet tag dangling in her face and a small bike with training wheels. All the children were smiling as they looked up at their mother, Keydi Cardenas.

“This is Junior,” Keydi Cardenas said, indicating a young boy on his way over to the group.

Junior, too, was smiling.

When asked how it was to be a part of the Joy of Giving, Junior replied: “It’s fun.”

Despite his smile and words, something seemed amiss.

There were three bikes and four children.

“We have to get helmets. There isn’t quite enough for another bike,” he said, his words so softly spoken you could barely hear him. No tears or whining.

Keydi Cardenas looked closely at her son the eldest at age 13. They were discussing quietly, speaking slowly deciding what to do.

Nikki Davis, founder of the Joy of Giving, caught word through a messenger a volunteer elf, Amber Prange, 31, of Marco Island.

It was as if an emergency alarm was sounded at the North Pole and Santa Claus caught word of a child missing from his list.

As inexplicable as flying reindeer, about half an hour later, the Cardenas family walked out of the super store—four children, four bikes, four helmets, bike locks and a turkey.

The Joy of Giving creates their list of families and children with the help of the school district. Often, last-minute hard cases are added cases where a family had a huge emergency just before Christmas and the Joy of Giving is called upon to help.

“We get the children before we get the money. How could you say no? If somebody greater than I isn’t overseeing this whole event, than I don’t know how this could be possible,” said Davis.

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