The spirit of Christmas — the compassion, the joy of giving and the elation of receiving — has been a regular part of the holiday season at the Manatee Elementary School media center for more than a decade thanks to a special effort by Marco Islanders.
Naturally, 2014 was no different thanks, as always, to the Kiwanis Club of Marco Island.
Through its annual Toys for Kids program, the club has raised funds to purchase toys for children in need at Manatee for the last 12 years. The program also includes some students at Tommie Barfield Elementary School and the Marco Island Charter Middle School.
“It’s so exciting to be able to make their Christmas just a littlebrighter,” said club president Diana Dohm.
This year, the organization raised $8,000 to purchase toys valued at about $10 each for 720 children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
It’s an effort that means a great deal to everyone at Manatee.
“This is one of my favorite events for our school,” said Wendy Borowski, the school’s principal. “The students love this. We (the staff) love this. The Kiwanis Club is wonderful. They’ve done so many wonderful things for our children with books, with the gifts every year and our children love it. There’s absolute joy on their faces when they come in.”
Kiwanis of Marco Island also gives away books to Manatee and Tommie Barfield students, with almost 2,400 books to bepassed out this school year.
There was an air of excitement and anticipation at the school last week on the morning of the toy distribution. After the gifts were delivered, volunteers from the club unpacked and sorted them and set up shop in anticipation of the children’s arrival, but before the students filed into the media center by classroom, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived to make the event even more special.
When the children arrived, each received a candy cane before turning a corner where the gifts and a brief but warm chat with Mr. and Mrs. Claus awaited each and every one.
“Look at you,” was Santa’s personalized greeting to each child. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here today.”
Therewere “Barbies” and other dolls and jewelry sets for the girls, footballs and soccer balls, toy trains and cars for the boys, and an assortment of board games dispensed.
There were shouts of “Thank You, Santa” and “Merry Christmas” voiced in unison by the students as they lined up after receiving their gifts. Everywhere there were smiles, whether it be a child exclaiming, “Guys, look what I got,” or the adults there to take in the proceedings.
“This means so much to the children because a lot of them won’t receive many gifts (for Christmas),” said Lisa Bludworth, a first-grade teacher at Manatee. “So, this means the joy of Christmas for them. It also shows them how the communitycan work together.”
Before any gifts were presented, they first had to be purchased, which the club did two weeks ago at a Kmart located off of Golden Gate Parkway, where it receives a 10 percent discount for the program.
There, volunteers enthusiastically prowled the aisles, where they selected age-appropriate gifts. After placing the purchases into massive plastic bags, the entire haul was placed in SUVs and cars and transported back to Marco.
Kiwanian John Coff was present for the buying and the distributing and the satisfaction of bringing joy to a child.
“All you have to do is watch the kids after they get a toy,” said Coff. “When you see them walking away and looking at that toy and smiling and laughing, that makes it all worthwhile.”