Guest Column: Collier builders construct a holiday toy drive

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By Tom Lykos

Naples

Each year, for the past 16 years, the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA) has collected toys and monetary donations from its members to provide toys and treats to the underprivileged children of Immokalee.

Over those years, the membership of the association has fluctuated from a high of over 1,400 in 2006 to a low of approximately 300 in 2012. And through it all, the mission to deliver Christmas to those young children has never gone unfulfilled.

This year, through the generosity of its members, CBIA was able to provide over 2,000 toys to the children of Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee.

Many cynics will claim that CBIA is simply a collection of greedy developers with their own self-interests at the heart of everything they do. The skeptics often put forth that good deeds are only performed to attract the media and positive press, in a futile attempt to compensate for the negative impact of real estate development. Or the detractors will say that the community service performed by the members of CBIA is a proverbial “drop in the bucket” compared to the profits they reap from the growth of Collier County.

It’s Christmas, and those arguments will be left for another time. This is really about how over 860 elementary school students in Immokalee will experience the magic of Christmas.

Imagine, for a moment, living in a very small house that may not meet the most basic building codes. Imagine being a parent to young children and struggling every day to provide for your family’s most basic needs of food, shelter and safety. Imagine being a child, living in those circumstances, learning to go without. Imagine how the innocence of childhood is eroded away by a home environment under stress and a lack of healthcare. Imagine how easy it would be to eventually concede your future and your happiness to these difficult circumstances, as a child.

The CBIA Toy drive doesn’t change the living conditions in Immokalee. The members of CBIA don’t remove the challenges of growing up in a migrant worker community. But for a little while every year, for the past 16 years, the young children of Immokalee get to visit with Santa Claus. Those children are allowed, for a moment, to immerse themselves in the magic of Christmas. They are provided with the opportunity to select a gift or two from a mass of over 2,000 toys assembled and delivered by Santa and his reindeer.

For a few moments each child is made to feel special and perhaps, for a moment, a spark of hope and innocence is rekindled inside of the heart of each child.

Nope, the members of CBIA — the plumbers, electricians, builders, interior designers, insurance agents, bankers, accountants, engineers, roofers, lumber yards, and even the developers — are not going to change the world. And no, the media has never beaten a path to CBIA’s door to share this story. But maybe, at the absolute least, CBIA makes the life of a child just a little bit brighter. And maybe, just maybe, one of those children, with the strength of a renewed spirit, will change the world.

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