Special Reports

Santa Cop program bags toys for needy


Instead of “Onward Donner, onward Blitzen,” it was “Crank your engines.”

Members of the Gulf Coast Corvette Club provided about 25 of the rakish sports cars and their owners to haul away toys for the Mount Carmel Community Resource Center in Palmetto and the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots drive.

The toys were purchased at the Bealls department store in Creekwood Crossing shopping center by members of the Manatee Fraternal Order of Police.

In a frenzied 25 minutes of shopping, members of the fraternity spent $11,300 on the toys that will go to disadvantaged children throughout the community, said Ken Dodd, past president of the lodge.

It was part of the organization’s 24th annual Santa Cop Program, which started with just one family in 1985. That night, lodge members filled the kitchen with food, put up a tree, and packed the floor around it with gifts.

For the past 10 years, the lodge has partnered with Bealls, which offers a discount on toy prices for the gift program.

Last year, the lodge used a stretch limo to deliver the toys, but Tuesday, Santa’s sleigh was a fleet of sports cars, plus a vintage Dodge Charger, a 1950 Chevrolet convertible and a pickup truck or two, all of which were barely able to handle all those toys.

Lauren Piersa of Palmetto, who brought her 2006 Corvette to help, said this was the second toy distribution effort for the car enthusiasts this year.

“It’s all about the kids,” Piersa said.

Bill Webster, director of public and government affairs for Bealls Inc., got into the spirit of the event by helping push carts of toys out to the waiting cars.

“I thought it was terrific. It was really exciting and everyone got into. I truly have never seen anything like that,” Webster said.

Lodge and Corvette club members showed up at Mount Carmel unannounced with the toys in the afternoon — a “Publishers Clearing House moment,” Webster said.

Charlene Pursell, Bealls store manager, called the shopping spree the biggest one she has seen.

“It marks the true meaning of Christmas, generous and kind hearts helping others,” Pursell said.

Sherry Dodd, one of the lodge members, said it’s all about “helping people, especially kids.”

Robert Williams, president of Manatee Lodge 70, thanked the community and businesses like Bealls for their support.

“Mr. Bob Beall and his staff go the extra mile to make our program better every year,” Williams said in a press release.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.