MANATEE -- Christmas is still be more than four months away, but Toys for Tots kicked off its toy drive Saturday and did it big -- monster big.
Hundreds of people came to show off vehicles and check out other tricked-out trucks at the Manasota Truck Night show at the Desoto Speedway off State Road 64.
Firkins Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Bradenton joined forces with Marine Corps League Desoto Detachment No. 588 in hosting the event.
Happy children were everywhere. Five-year-old Cole Newman had never been to a truck show but he loves watching them on TV and listening to songs about them, said his mom, Michella Newman. That's why she made the drive from Clearwater to the DeSoto Speedway to see the trucks.
"I saw big ones and I saw super-huge ones," Cole said. "And I saw a dirty one."
His mom said he also loved one with spikes.
"I like the ones that light up," Cole added.
Shane Ladwig of Sarasota was proudly sitting on the back of his recently decked-out Ford F-350.
"I built this truck four days ago and I love it," Ladwig said. "My brother helped me design it."
Having just completed five years of service in the U.S. Air Force, coming home to buy a diesel truck was exciting, he said.
"They're contagious," said his father, Jeff Ladwig, adding he and his other son, Kyle, also have F-350s.
As proud as they were of their trucks, they were equally proud of all the toys they brought, they said.
Organizers said they were thrilled with the turnout despite not collecting as many toys as last year's truck show. Most proceeds from the event go to Toys for Tots.
"If we pack the track though, the more money there is for the kids," said organizer Marc Kassel.
Demand for toys from families in need is so high, volunteers must begin the drive far in advance of Christmas.
"It's really all about the charity," Rowland Shannon said. "There's so many people that love trucks, so why not put something on that they love to do and get some toys for the kids?"
The first Toys for Tots campaign was started by Maj. Bill Hendricks, U.S. Marine Corp., in 1947 in Los Angeles collected 5,000 toys. Since then, Toys for Tots has become an official activity of the Marines and of the Marine Corps Reserve.
The drive also accepts cash donations, and volunteers were walking around collecting to make it possible to buy wrapping paper for parents to prepare gifts from Santa.
For information at the Manatee County Toys for Tots program and dropoff sites go to orgsites.com/fl/mcl588.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.