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Nowadays, when Nicki Davis talks about the annual Joy of Giving project to enable parents from lesser privileged or down-on-their-luck families to buy Christmas gifts for their kids, she gives everybody credit but herself.

“People show up and know just what to do now,” Davis said. “I don’t have to run everything. The “Joy” has become so big that it’s not Nicki … it’s everybody, it’s the island’s charity, it’s theirs.”

The truth is that if Davis didn’t found the Joy of Giving all of 27 years ago, thousands and thousands of area children would not have been able to return to school a few weeks later and tell their classmates: “Santa came to my house too.” It’s Davis’ favorite quote line associated with the charity, which this year aims at $105,000 to take care of 1,000 children.

Bicycles and toys are high on the list of parents, but Davis points out that many of them opt for clothing and just a new pair of shoes for their kids as well.

This year, the shopping spree – with zero buyers’ remorse – happens Dec. 12 at WalMart near Marco Island. Families nominated by counselors from schools in Marco Island, North Naples, Golden Gate and East Naples.

The charity started out as modestly as the families it now serves, when in 1988 Davis started with just one needy family whose lives she decided to brighten by getting a wish list from a single mom and enabling Santa to deliver.

“One of the girls ran out, tried to put his arms around his waist and said ‘Santa, I knew you wouldn’t forget me. Last year I waited, and you didn’t come,’” Davis said.

Davis raised the money by convincing Coldwell Banker (Realty) colleagues to forgo their Secret Santa tradition, and instead pool the money for her initiative.

From there, The Joy of Giving snowballed, and in recent years members of the Island Country Club have basically guaranteed its success by donating about half the cash needed.

And, they top it off by giving each family a big frozen turkey on the way out.

A generous new sponsor this year is Walker’s Marine, Davis said, and Autocraft owner Ernie Borden again stages an annual motorcycle ride Nov. 29 from Seven O One restaurant (the old Porky’s) to help swell the coffers. In addition, First Florida Integrity Bank and manager Tom Wagor have been long-time supporters, as has the Noontime Rotary Club.

And, mindful of the ongoing generosity of Marco Islanders, Davis and her team will again mail out letters to previous and potential new donors.

Davis made particular mention of organization vice-president Misty Sayah, saying without her efforts she simply wouldn’t be able to cope with the magnitude of pulling the whole thing together.

Does Davis have a moving story this year?

“One parent who was given money last year contacted us to say she didn’t want any more for her kids this year,” Davis said. “She said even though her family was still poor, we should give it to somebody else so that she and her family could feel the joy of giving for themselves.”

Want to help?

» What: The Joy of Giving

» Goal: Raise $105,000 to provide vouchers for parents to buy presents for their children

» How to donate: Go to the jogchildren.org.

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