LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In the lobby of Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, there are the typical holiday decorations: the Christmas tree, garland entwining the staircase railing and wreathes on the walls.
And for the past three years, bikes and boxes of toys have also become a holiday staple at the clubhouse.
About 150 bikes and several boxes filled to the rim
with toys have been donated so far this year as part of the country club's third annual toy drive. Since there have been so many bicycles donated, some of the bikes can't be on display in the lobby so they are in a storage room until Toys for Tots of Manatee County comes to pick up the toys on Thursday, said Wayne Piazza, the club's manager.
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"It is really kind of neat," Piazza said as he looked around the room at all of the toys and bikes in the lobby. "The members here have really big hearts and saw a need for it."
Seeing and filling a need
Three years ago, Dave Lacy saw this need and the event has since "taken on a life of its own." In the first year, 12 bikes and a box of toys were donated to Toys for Tots and this year, Piazza is estimating the bikes and toys will total more than $15,000 when this year's drive is complete.
"It's a small part of giving back and giving to the kids," said Lacy, who donated two 26-inch bikes this year. "I've always given and always been a supporter of Toys for Tots. I think it is a good cause."
The Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club is just one of more than 500 collection sites in the county and last year, more than 50,000 toys were donated, said Mike McClain, Manatee County coordinator for Toys for Tots.
In the United States, 500 million toys are collected each year and there are given to 13 million children, he added.
"There are so many children out there that won't have a Christmas," McClain said. "We are trying to get out there and trying to make sure no child goes without a toy under the tree on Christmas morning."
While the 'tots' is in the organization's name, McClain said they also serve 16- and 17-year-olds. All of the toys donated in the county are given to Manatee County children. The Manatee County branch of Toys for Tots has been serving the county's children for the last 20 years.
Every year, the Marines that run the Manatee County Toys for Tots deliver toys directly to families' homes.
"That's probably the most gratifying thing we do," McClain said. "It's just absolutely gratifying to see that."
For the last couple years, Amscot donates helmets and the Walmart on State Road 70 donates part of their annual Christmas fund in addition to volunteering time to put the bikes together, said Lacy, a eight-year member of the club.
"(The members) see a need open up and it just fills up," Piazza said. "It is a very humbling experience when I watch it all unfold.
"Toys for Tots are pretty blown away. Very thankful. From what they tell us, this is pretty substantial as far as giving goes."
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.