By LOIS KINDLE
South Shore’s children are filled with joyous anticipation that Santa will visit their homes this year. Unfortunately, that visit may not happen for some.
That’s why Walter and Don Pearson, owners of Pearson Capital Inc., and their associate Ann Hathaway have sponsored and coordinated the annual South Shore Toys for Tots drive for the past 13 years.
“It’s a huge effort, and every year we say we’ll do it one more time (and then stop),” Hathaway said. “But then after the collection, we wonder why we ever questioned not doing it. We’re always amazed how the community comes through year after year and how their donations will help so many kids have a merry Christmas.”
The effort is part of the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots drive, the largest one-day collection event in in Hillsborough County.
Last year, 92 boxes of toys for kids up to age 12, more than $11,000 and a record 350 bicycles were donated, Hathaway said.
Ninety boxes have already been placed at area businesses, where residents can drop off new, unwrapped toys through Dec. 7. Every donation helps bring joy to a child who might not otherwise get a gift Christmas morning.
This is the ninth time Rachel’s Salon in Apollo Beach has participated.
“It’s awesome to help out,” said owner Rachel Mushow. “I’m so happy and proud we are able to fill two boxes every year. My clients fill one box, and my husband and I fill the other. It’s a wonderful opportunity for businesses to give back to the community that supports them.”
The collections are then brought to the annual wrap-up party at the Alley at Southshore, 10221 Big Bend Road, Riverview. The festive event will take place in The Alley Cat Restaurant from 1 to 5 p.m. and includes free food provided by Pearson. Everyone’s invited to attend, and admission is one new, unwrapped toy, bike or cash donation.
“Since The Alley has partnered with us the past five years, the drive has really gone off the charts,” Hathaway said. The Boje family and its entire staff go all out to help us with whatever we need.”
Santa, aka John O’Connor, the mirror image of the Jolly Old Soul, and Mrs. Claus, O’Connor’s wife, will visit from 2 to 5 p.m. John O’Connor, who delights in making every child feel special and heard, has been part of the wrap-up party for about eight years.
Marines from the 4th Assault Battalion in Tampa will attend the party, help businesses unload their boxes, and then load all the donations onto a 7-ton transport vehicle for delivery to a Tampa warehouse, said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tausnel Renaud, who has served in the Corps for the past 17 years.
“Once we gather the toys, we take them to the warehouse for sorting and staging to go to distribution sites Dec. 23,” he said. “For us as Marines, it’s important to give back to our community and to kids in need.”
The sites include Beth El Mission in Wimauma and seven Hillsborough high schools, where parents from low-income families who have signed up for the program can pick up toys, and then wrap them for Christmas.
The Marines use all-cash donations to purchase toys for age groups usually lacking in donations, particularly infants and preteens. Every year, the Marines have a shortage in these age groups, Hathaway said.
Some area businesses offer special incentives for folks to donate.
“Guests who bring in a new, unwrapped toy to the Firehouse Pub get a free drink or adult beverage,” said Beth Stein, operations coordinator for the Firehouse Cultural Center. “We look forward to helping out Toys for Tots each year.”
The following is a partial list of drop-off locations for Toys for Tots donations:
SouthShore Chamber, 137 Harbor Village Lane
Rachel’s Family Salon, 5473 U.S. 41 N.
Century 21 Beggins Enterprises, 6542 U.S. 41 N.
H&R Block, 151 Harbor Village Lane
H&R Block, 5042 U.S. 41 N.
Kids ᾿R᾿ Kids Southshore, 13151 Kings Lake Drive
Oops A Daisy Flowers & Gifts, 7130 Big Bend Road
The Alley, 10221 Big Bend Road
Riverview Mortgage, 10035 Water Works Lane
Quality Life Massage, 10015 Park Place Ave.
Great Clips 11653 Boyette Road
NV Salon, 13107 U.S. 301 S.
Firehouse Cultural Center, 101 First Ave. N.E.
FYZ Auto Care, 405 U.S. 41 N
Mango Jo’s, 2626 E. College Ave.
Beanie’s Family Sports Grill, 2002 U.S. 41 S.
Sun City Center
Boggs Jewelers, 4852 S.R. 674
Century 21 Beggins Realty, 701 Del Webb Blvd. W.
H&R Block, 721 Imar Drive
Sun City Center Funeral Home, 1851 Rickenbacker Drive
For more information or other locations near you, call 813-645-6392.