NAPLES — Giving out of abundance is a privilege that many of us exercise and one that puts the true meaning of the holiday season into perspective. Local organizations work yearround to prepare for the season of giving and strive to light up the faces of children around the community.
The following is a glimpse of a few of the many organizations who gather donations for area children for the holidays. The list includes what kinds of items the organization collects, where and when to drop off donations and contact information.
Who: St. Matthew’s House
What: Soccer balls, dolls, scooters, matchbox cars, crayons, coloring books, books
When: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Where: 2001 Airport Road South, Naples
Organized primarily by WAY-FM, St. Matthew’s House (SMH) is gearing up to deliver magical wishes to resident families and children, as well as others in need.
According to Kerri L. Sparks, director of development and communications for SMH, last year after the Christmas wishes were all filled, SMH was notified that there was a mother who was unable to provide her daughter’s wish for a tricycle.
SMH made the need known, and a few days before Christmas, an anonymous donor dropped off a pink tricycle. The gift was delivered to a very happy little girl.
This year, donated toys will be distributed at a candlelight vigil at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 21, in the SMH courtyard. The public is invited for cookies and to share in the joy of children receiving gifts and who, for a short time, can take their young minds off of the troubles their families are enduring.
On Christmas Day, additional donated toys will distributed to resident children as well as those residing at the Wolfe apartment complex in Golden Gate, also part of the SMH family.
SMH donates the overflow of donated toys to partner agencies and local church organizations. Financial donations can be dropped off or mailed to 2001 Airport Road South, Naples, FL 34112 or made at stmatthewshouse.org.
Who: Bikes for Tykes, Inc. of Naples
What: Gently used bikes
Where: Visit the bikesfortykes.org “contact” link and submit your location for a drop off point
Standing as a “beacon of hope” for underprivileged children, the nationwide, 25 chapter non-profit organization Bikes for Tykes, Inc. (BFT) works to ensure that any child aged four to 18 who wishes for a bicycle will get one on Christmas morning.
Founder and President Scott Riffle relays the story of the miraculous power of a new bike to a child. After Christmas day 1987, he received a phone call from a Collier County Sherriff asking if he had any bikes left.
Instead of getting the bike that was on his Christmas wish list, a youngster was severely injured by his mother’s abusive boyfriend. The hospitalized eight year old boy lay dying in a full body cast, his jaw wired shut.
Even though Riffle did not have any bikes left, he replied that he’d have one for the boy. He and his wife worked through the night to refurbish a BMX model.
When Riffle delivered the bike, the boy spotted it out of the one eye left unbandaged. His joy, apparent to all was heard as he sounded a soft grunt of glee from his wired-shut jaw.
Later, the doctor shared that the boy had given up his will to live and was not expected to survive more than two days, but at the sight of the bike he so desperately wanted to ride, his will was restored. The men had witnessed a miracle.
Riffle conducts bike repair workshops at his home, hosted by companies and others. Volunteers work at his shop throughout the year to be ready for the Christmas distribution, assisted by the Children’s Network of Southwest Florida who helps place the bikes in the hands of grateful children on Christmas Day.
Since its founding in 1981, about 18,000 children have received a shiny reconditioned bike through the efforts of events such as the BFT signature fundraiser, the Harley Davidson of Naples Poker Run that is set for December 15 (see bikesfortykes.org/?cat=6).
Monetary donations can be made at bikesfortykes.org or by mail to Bikes for Tykes, Inc., 5950 Cope Lane, Naples, FL 34112.
Who: A.G. Family Insurance
What: Unwrapped toys, shoes, clothes, toys; food gift cards (call or visit Web site for wish lists)
When: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Where: 9420 Fountain Medical Court, Ste. 101, Bonita Springs or Big Al’s Sports Grill, 25101 S. Tamiami Tr., Bonita Springs
Gina “Muzzi” Racioppi, owner of A.G. Family Insurance is the organizer of her company’s first annual Little Angels Holiday Drive for the benefit of children ages 19 months to 17 from Bonita Springs Elementary School, Parkside Elementary School, The United Way, Bay Presbyterian Church and Oak River Church.
After reviewing some of the wish lists from some 25 children and 13 families, Racioppi saw that instead of toys, parents and even children were asking for items like bibles, shoes and clothes, which made her change the focus of the drive from toys only to a holiday drive.
One seven year old girl wished for a new dress to wear to church and another youngster wished first for shoes and pants, then for a modest stuffed animal.
“One of the boys on our wish list is suffering from bone development health issues; there are also siblings who have been in foster care since they were young. We also have a mother struggling to survive after losing her husband to cancer last Thanksgiving day. He left a 19 month and a three year old behind,” said Racioppi.
“Some parents work two jobs and still have trouble making ends meet. Others can’t find work at all, and some are single parents doing their best to be a mom and dad at the same time. These folks need our help.”
Collected toys will be dropped off at the recipient locales for distribution on December 19. Besides the community donations, area restaurant owners are also encouraged to donate gift certificates for needy families.
Who: Marine Corps League of Naples Toys for Tots
What: New, unwrapped toys (infant to age 14)
Where: Toy and cash drop off boxes at all Publix, Regions Bank and Walgreens (check Web site for other locations
Contact: Visit marinecorpsleaguenaples.com
Toys for Tots (TFT) founded in 1948 by Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine reservists has been in operation in Collier County since 1970, one of 500 chapters nationwide.
Locally, starting in September, the Marine Corps League of Naples works to make Christmas bright for America’s needy, abused and neglected children.
Collier County TFT Coordinator, Senior Vice Commandant Scott Richardson relays a story of a parent who had lost his job and who had no income to buy gifts for his children. With tears in his eyes, the parent asked for help and received it. The father then pledged that he hoped to be on the giving end the following year.
Over 25,000 toys have been collected and distributed to more than 7,000 Collier County underprivileged children. TFT also donates items to other county agencies for distribution.
Registration for toys will be 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 5, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 6 and from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 7 at the former DeVoe Buick/GMC Dealership, 2601 Airport Pulling Road South, Naples (just past Home Depot).
Parents and caregivers must bring proof of Collier County residency, a photo identification and birth certificates for each child born in 1998 or after (children are not allowed in the building during registration process).
TFT checks with area agencies to substantiate actual need. Toy distribution is set for December 22 during two sessions.
On December 8, The Letter Carriers of Collier County encourage residents to place an unwrapped toy in mailboxes for pick up. In addition to toys, financial donations can be mailed to TFT at the E.T. Brisson detachment, #063, c/o The Marine Corps League, P.O. Box 8982, Naples, FL 34101.