Fortunately, there are no shortages of toy drives during the holiday season to fulfill a large need to provide a magical merry Christmas to area children. But not all toy drives originate from the buzzing halls of a tattoo parlor.
Keegan Koga, owner of Trap Ink Tattoos, has a heart for children in need and his compassion spreads through his staff with an equal enthusiasm because like any artists, they know what it means to struggle at times.
“The first year I opened the doors to my shop in 2011, I had $30 in my account,” Koga said. “I was dead broke and stressed out beyond belief. I wanted to do something to remind us that it wasn’t that bad. It can be worse.”
Koga began his first drive in that first year of opening up his shop and he had humble goals.
“Honestly, I was just hoping to be able to help maybe five families,” he said. “Now we are helping about 80 families.”
This year’s efforts have tripled his previous toy drives, raising about $6,000 in cash, $1,500 in gift cards and about $10,000 in toys. He partnered with Manasota Teens, but when the agency lost it’s funding, Koga was told he would have to raise the money himself.
Since then, customers, Facebook fans, about 30 businesses and the 9,500-members of Manasota Gun Talk have taking the annual drive to a new level. Manasota Teens still refers families to Koga.
The more you know somebody is struggling the more you want to get involved.
Keegan Koga, owner of Trap Ink Tattoos
“It’s important to remain involved with the non-profits because that ensures that the families referred to us aren’t being referred to another agency,” Koga said. “People are entrusting me with thousands of dollars in cash and thousands of dollars worth of gifts. That’s their hard-earned money and they deserve to know where their money is going. They know I’ve been around for a while and they know I’m particular. I don’t just give to anyone.”
Koga established a few ground rules and requires parents to show up with their children to receive the gifts, which will be handed out by Santa at his shop on Christmas Eve. Koga said the six-year experience of his toy drive has been a blessing in the people he gets to know.
“A lot of times people we find out people we know are struggling and we didn’t know they were struggling to that extent or why,” he said. “Sometimes it can be from so many different circumstances to a broken leg and can’t work to one mother whose child was molested and she’s spending all of her time fighting for her child’s justice. Don’t get me wrong, there are always a few dirty people that will try and take advantage, but you can’t judge anybody’s circumstance.”
Koga said he learned that from volunteering at a ministry when he was younger.
“The more you know somebody is struggling, the more you want to get involved,” he said. “Especially when you find out someone is living in a hotel or outside. Certain cases hit you harder than others.”
Most of the children will receive gifts ranging from $100-$150, but Koga does go the extra mile for those “harder” kind of cases. One of those children put a new Xbox One on his list, “And by god, he’s going to get it,” Koga said with a smile.
Koga originally opened in Sarasota and moved his shop to his new location in Bradenton at 5615 26th St. W. in July. The stress and cost of the move was extensive and he didn’t know if was going to pull off his sixth consecutive toy drive or how successful the effort would be.
“It’s been stressful, but I’m really excited at the show of support,” he said. “Now we are the time when we can put aside the stress and start to allow the emotions to get involved. The kids are getting excited, the parents are excited, we are excited. It’s overwhelming and kind of crazy at the same time and I’m super excited to see these families come in Christmas Eve.”