By Suzy Wiesenhart

Since 1947, Marine Corps Reserve Units nationwide have encouraged businesses to gather new, unwrapped toys for needy children. SouthShore’s collection efforts began in October placing toy boxes in businesses, churches and mobile home parks in the area through the efforts of local coordinators Donald Pearson and Ann Hathaway of Pearson Capital, a Financial Investment Company in Apollo Beach. This year will mark Pearson’s ninth year with the Toys for Tots event, which has quadrupled in participation.

More than 115 local businesses participated last year, making the holiday season a little brighter for more than 500 SouthShore families in need and Pearson is eager to break that record this year.

“When we started the first year, we had 32 boxes and this year it’s grown to 115,” explained Pearson last year. “My father is a World War II veteran, so we are always supportive of causes helping military and families.”

To recognize businesses that support the event, Pearson hosts a party to collect the toys for distribution. Last year’s event grew so large, it was moved from its original Ruskin VFW location to The Alley at SouthShore, where owner Jeff Boje and his staff made room for “Toy Mountain.” The pool tables were stacked to overflowing with the unwrapped toys.

On Saturday, December 12, from 3-7 p.m., The Alley will be transformed into Santa’s workshop as Toys for Tots Coordinator, GySGT David Barrett and his Marines will greet guests and gather toys. The festivities will include food and drink, entertainment by DJ Gary and appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus and is open to the public for an admission fee of one new unwrapped toy.

Last year, “Toy Mountain” filled three trailer trucks and included over 82 bicycles. In addition, donations of $5,000 were collected so Marines could purchase additional toys for critical needs areas. Hathaway commented, “I know this year will top last year’s donations.”

SouthShore’s Toys for Tots is already one of the top three collection events in Hillsborough County, but Pearson still looks forward to growing “Toy Mountain” this year. Businesses still wishing to donate can contact Pearson or Hathaway at 641-7575.

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Suzy Wiesenhart
Suzy is one of the Advertising Representatives for the Riverview area. She started with the Osprey as an advertising assistant in 2008 and has various positions since then. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Riverview Chamber of Commerce. She has lived in Bloomingdale with her husband, Tom for the last 22 years.