By Paula MacDonald
Through the generosity of more than 100 local businesses, the holiday season became a little brighter for SouthShore families in need as participation in the community’s U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program reached an all-time high.
Since 1947, Marine Corps Reserve Units nationwide have worked with businesses to gather new, unwrapped toys for needy children. SouthShore’s collection efforts started in October when toy boxes were distributed to area businesses through the efforts of local coordinators Donald Pearson and Ann Hathaway of Pearson Capital in Apollo Beach. This year marked Pearson’s eighth year of coordinating the Toys for Tots event, which has quadrupled in participation over the years.
“When we started the first year, we had 32 boxes and this year it’s grown to 133,” explained Pearson. “My father is a World War II veteran, so we are always supportive of causes helping military and families. Toys for Tots is a perfect match.”
To recognize and honor businesses that support the event each year, Pearson hosts a party to collect all of the toys for distribution. This year’s event had grown so large that it had to be moved from its original Ruskin VFW location to The Alley at SouthShore, where owner, Jeff Boje, and his team made room for “Toy Mountain.”
On Sunday, December 15, The Alley was transformed into Santa’s workshop as Toys for Tots Coordinator, SSgt Alvin McLean and 20 Marines greeted guests and gathered toys. Business owners and guests were entertained with music by DJ Gary Stebbins, plenty of food, a visit from Santa and photography by Ed Booth. By the end of the collection party, “Toy Mountain” grew large enough to fill three trailer trucks and included over 40 bicycles. In addition, donations of $4,000 were collected for the Marines to make additional toy purchases in critical need areas. While SouthShore Toys for Tots is already one of the top three collection events in Hillsborough County, Pearson still looks forward to continued growth next year. Businesses who would like to participate in 2014 can contact Donald Pearson or Ann Hathaway at Pearson Capital by calling 641-7575.