By Noelle H. Lowery
It was scene right out of the North Pole. On a recent chilly morning at Manatee Elementary School, Christmas carols poured out of a media center decked out in traditional red, green and gold. Candy canes and cookies sat at the ready, as children lined up — some grinning ear-to-ear others looking just a little apprehensive. After all, they were about the have a one-on-one conference with Santa and Mrs. Claus, who sat in rocking chairs surrounded by their elves and bags of toys, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, games and art supplies.
All of this was thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Marco Island and John Coff, the Kiwanian behind the event. The local service organization was holding its 10th annual Gift Giveaway for the students of Manatee, many of whom are children of migrant workers. Marco Island schools are part of the giving as well. Kiwanis also gives to kids and families at Tommie Barfield Elementary School and Marco Island Charter Middle School.
“For a lot of these kids, this IS their Christmas,” explained Kiwanian Arlene Coff, John’s wife. He added: “It is really for the children, but it also gives us a good feeling of helping…We feel they deserve a lot more, and we do what we can.” Marco’s Kiwanians spend a lot of time at Manatee throughout the year with the Reading is Fundamental and Terrific Kids programs.
Kiwanians work the entire year raising funds through their 50-50 events, Candy Cane Drive and various raffles. They also receive donations and collect toys from other local groups like Christmas Island Style. Most of the gifts are purchased during the Kiwanis buying day, when about 15 Kiwanians shop until they drop buying gifts according to age and gender groups.
In all, close to $9,000.00 is spent on the giveaway, bringing smiles and squeals of delight to the kids at Manatee. For the girls, Barbie and baby dolls, art sets, jewelry-making kits, stuffed animals, games, roller skates; and for the boys, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, games, action figures, Matchbox cars, trucks and fire engines.
For some Kiwanians, this event is their inspiration for the year-round community service provided by the organization. Watching the wide-eyed children sit with Santa and hearing their little voice say ,“May God Bless You,” fuels them for the work ahead.
“This is the whole reason I belong to Kiwanis,” noted Patricia Hagedorn. “It is the best thing we do all year. It is just fabulous, and the kid are just wonderful. It is a joy to do this.”