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About 900 children to get Christmas gifts thanks to Joy of Giving charity

Lance Shearer
Correspondent

A lot of local children who might have had little or nothing under their Christmas trees will instead wake up on Dec. 25 to a blizzard of presents.

The Joy of Giving, Marco-based charitable organization, provided funding for 900 children to receive $150 each in gifts. It's a tradition Joy of Giving founder Nikki Davis began in 1988.

Maria and Raul Lora shop for their six children. The Joy of Giving provided gifts for 900 disadvantaged children, opening Walmart at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 morning for a special shopping spree.

At 5 a.m., the doors to the Walmart by Eagle Creek on Collier Boulevard opened — two hours before the normal opening time — and people started streaming in, ready for a concentrated blast of Christmas shopping. The children who will receive the gifts are members of 339 local families. Due to social distancing concerns, only the parents came to the store this year, and Walmart monitored the number of shoppers allowed in at any one time.

Joy of Giving’s approach is to keep the parents in control so they can be Santa for their kids.

“We give the parents the dignity to shop,” said Davis.

Gifts go to children up to age 17, and when one child in a family is accepted into the program, all children in the family receive a gift allotment.

Joy of Giving says it works with the guidance counselors at area schools to get the assistance to where it will do the most good. There are many local families, even right around affluent Marco Island, who are struggling to make ends meet and lack the money to buy Christmas gifts.

Maria Solorio fills a shopping cart for her kids. The Joy of Giving provided gifts for 900 disadvantaged children, opening Walmart at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 morning for a special shopping spree.

The biggest smiles were on the faces of the about 30 volunteers. They worked with the shoppers checking the prices of their finds before the families headed to checkout.

Volunteers Al and Myrna Diaz, of Marco Island, made it a family affair, bringing along Alexandra Diaz, who stole the show with her elf costume, complete with plaid mask, Christmas tree jewelry and pointed ears.

Walmart store manager Bob Galloway makes an announcement to the volunteers. The Joy of Giving provided gifts for 900 disadvantaged children, opening Walmart at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 morning for a special shopping spree.

The recipients were largely intent and focused, making sure they got the right item. Parents of multiple children pushed several carts, loaded with items for each child.

Raul and Maria Lora said they were buying for their six children — ages 15, 13, 11, 8, 6, and 5.

Many of the carts had a kid-size bicycle hanging over the side, making navigation through the aisles tricky. The toy and sporting goods departments were thronged with families, eager to latch onto a particular hot item.

Along with bikes, scooters, Lego sets, Star Wars gear, karaoke machines and perennial favorites such as Barbie dolls made their way into a lot of carts. It wasn’t all toys — a lot of shopping carts carried clothing and shoes.

Katiuska Rodriguez held up a pair of blue jeans in the boys’ apparel section, checking whether they would fit one of her two sons, ages 12 and 13.

Bob Galloway, Walmart store manager, kept things running smoothly, even when the account being used to pay for the purchases froze due to the crush of transactions.

“It’s a little bit different this year, but we love doing this. We’re helping a lot of kids — but the volunteers do all the hard part,” he said. 

Davis deferred all credit to the donors and volunteers who make the effort possible, saying the credit for what Joy of Giving accomplishes belongs to them.

Pat Kaufman does a major share of the organizing, Davis said. Of all the fundraisers, the top source was members of the Island Country Club, who donated $45,000.

For more information or to contribute to Joy of Giving, a 501 (c)(3) organization, go online to www.jogchildren.org.