By Coastal Breeze News Staff
After 25 years of the Joy of Giving handing out gifts to children in need, Nicki Davis and Misty (Mixon) Sayah are more determined than ever to meet the needs of many families this year; a year which could very well exceed all others in the numbers of families needing help. According to Nicki, “Our goal this year is $85,000. In honor of our 25th Anniversary and the children of Collier County, we are working hard to make it.”
Lists have already been submitted by teachers, charity organizations and those who work with the children. According to Misty, the first lists are due around October 31. It is her job to oversee a detailed process with the help of Collier County school guidance counselors. There are about 1,000 children to account for. One unique thing about the Joy of Giving, once a child is identified, siblings up to the age of 17 are also accounted for.
“About this time of year, we hear about the hardest of the hard cases. We already know of a five year old child who lost her brother last year and her mother will not make it to Christmas,” said Misty. This type of scenario is not uncommon. Last year, one mom’s husband unexpectedly passed away just days before the event. She was expecting their fourth child, and the money they had saved for Christmas instead went to funeral expenses. One year, twin eight year olds, with an infant sister, lost their mother. The father, now providing childcare daily, lost his job and their home. “There are special cases; we expect about 100 children this year to suffer unusual hardship. These are children and families that through no fault of their own, are in desperate situations. My job right now is to focus on those cases, to accommodate them and make room for them.”
It all started 25 years ago. Nicki was feeling a bit down and decided it would be nice to give a few presents to those less fortunate rather than stay at home alone. That experience filled her heart, sparking her desire to do it again the following year, and the following year, and the year after that. Every year it grew. Now, after providing thousands of smiles to children, the Joy of Giving is celebrating its 25th year.
The 501(c)3 charity is funded through private donations, fundraising events like the Marco Riders’ Ride for Joy (covered elsewhere in this edition of Coastal Breeze News) and in large part through the generosity of the Island Country Club.
Families identified as ‘in need’ are invited to the Walmart at 6650 Collier Boulevard. This year, the event takes place on December 14 at 6 AM. Every family is given a card with a specified dollar amount determined by the number of children in the family and by the total funds raised by the Joy of Giving for the year. The families can shop for age appropriate toys, clothes and gifts up to that dollar amount. Santa is even on hand to greet the children. Families shop and when they’re ready the items are scanned. Scanning before they get to the cash register tells them if they have extra to spend or if they’re over their allotment. Once through the scanners it is onto the registers. The families ‘check-out’ at the register, no money exchanges hands. When the family leaves the store, the Island Country Club volunteers provide every one with a free frozen turkey.
Dozens of volunteers are on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly. Teachers and principals from schools, service clubs, charitable organizations, Upon a Star Foundation, Walmart employees and thirty or so volunteers from Island Country Club assist families and children with the process. When a child’s eyes meet yours and you hear, “Merry Christmas!” or “Gracias, Feliz Navidad,” you will, no doubt, return year after year. In fact, many volunteers have been on board for a dozen or more years, and there are many second generation volunteers. This isn’t because a parent insists they come, but because of the fulfillment felt of a good deed done. Bob Mehmet, of Island Country Club has a 22 year old stepson who’s participated for a decade. According to Bob, “He’s already asked, when is it?”
“Our first mission is to raise money for the children. Our second mission is dignity for the parent. Then there are the volunteers, and to see children of volunteers stepping up to continue the volunteer, means we are doing something well. A smile on a child’s face is contagious. Island Country Club has participated for 13 years and its members contribute almost half of the annual giving of the Joy of Giving. Tom Wagor has been with the Joy since very early on, Upon a Star Foundation, Autocraft, and many other businesses have assisted us through the years,” said Nicki. “We appreciate all of the help they give us in providing those smiles.”
If you’d like to help, please visit The Joy of Giving online at www.joyofgivingchildren.org. Every penny donated goes directly to providing gifts for children! Help them reach the 25th Anniversary goal, or come out on December 14 at 6 AM and witness true Holiday Spirit firsthand.