Nonprofits People4ThePeople, Toys For Tots filling Christmas toy void in Manatee

cschelle@bradenton.comDecember 18, 2013 

BRADENTON -- A special team of Santa's helpers are wrapping toys and checking lists twice to provide a Christmas to children who don't have it so nice.

Part of that love is through partnerships, which could definitely be seen Tuesday at the Department of Juvenile Justice office on Manatee Avenue. Volunteers from the department as well as Manatee County Head Start and the Manatee Community Action Agency wrapped and sorted gifts donated by various organizations and companies.

People4ThePeople, a nonprofit organization in operation since 2010, organized the annual toy drive and giveaway, and throughout the year helps Manatee County families in crises. One of those stressful moments is how parents are going to pay for Christmas for their children. The organization expects to help more than 600 families through this year's toy giveaway.

KaLena Bowers, founder and president of People4ThePeople, is one of the many volunteers doing their part to help make Christmas possible for needy children. While children might see toys as the end result of Christmas, it's the actions that count to make those toys possible, she said.

"We want them to understand the true meaning of Christmas, which is the gift of love. That's the biggest gift that we know is there," Bowers said. "Our mission is to spark love throughout the community."

People4ThePeople helps fulfill requests such as the need of a crib.

"We use social media to communicate that need to all of our members," Bowers said. "We have more than 200 members on our network in Sarasota and Manatee, and someone will wait for someone to respond and will either help meet the need directly or help with where they can go to get some need met."

Albertha Williams of Head Start said she's devoted to helping others.

"That makes life worth it, if you can help somebody else," Williams said.

Heather Ferrara took time out of her busy day with Juvenile Justice to wrap some joy.

"This time of year is for the children, and anything I can do to help is wonderful," she said.

Bealls Inc. is one of the organization's major contributor and helped make the last three Christmas toy drives possible for the organization, Bowers said. People4ThePeople picked up toys Tuesday morning at Bealls headquarters in Bradenton and honored Judy Craft, executive assistant to the chief financial officer, with an award for her help.

Tommy Hilfiger employees from the Ellenton Premium Outlets also donated clothing, gift cards and other items for teens and helped load toys. Hideaway Storage donated the van and space to store and deliver the presents.

People4ThePeople has donated more than 5,000 toys in its first three years and hopes to donate about 1,000 toys this season. It is one of many toy recipients from the Marine Toys For Tots drive, which accepts donations through Christmas Eve.

"We were running short on toys this year, but Mike has more coming," Bowers said of Marine Toys For Tots coordinator Mike McClain.

McClain said his organization was able to double the drop-off boxes this year to nearly 1,000, which will bring a haul of more than 40,000 toys. Last year Marine Toys For Tots distributed 35,650 toys in Manatee County, he said.

"Our goal is that every child has a little Christmas," McClain said. "If it wasn't for the community, we couldn't make this happen."

Toy donations have impressed Toys For Tots.

"I've had 40 to 50 bicycles, which I have never had coming in through the years," said McClain, who was also given an award by People4ThePeople for his help.

The organization will continue to deliver toys up through Christmas Eve, and also brings them to Department of Children Services to help distribute to verified organizations and families, he said.

Annually, about 26 million toys are collected through Toys For Tots.

To donate toys through People4The People, call 941-870-5618. For Toys For Tots, call 941-301-4598.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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