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Charitable opportunities abound

By Staff | Dec 5, 2009

With less than three weeks to Christmas, local charitable organizations are gearing up to collect gifts for Lee County residents who just don’t have the money.
The city’s main holiday event, the Holiday Festival of Lights hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral and title-sponsored by Comcast, is holding a Holiday Drive for the first time to assist some of the struggling families in Cape Coral.
“We are collecting toys for kids 10 and under, any kind of food, and we are taking cash,” said Bob Knickman, special events director for the chamber. “For every dollar we raise, the Cape Coral Community Foundation will donate another dollar up to $5,000 to the Cape Coral Caring Center.”
The Caring Center is a local organization assisting families with food, utility assistance and referrals to other agencies that can help them.
According to Knickman, the idea for a Holiday Drive came from Sandy Wilson, Comcast’s community relations representative.
“She said a lot of people are suffering this year and we have to go the extra effort for the Holiday Festival of Lights,” he said.
Knickman put a team of organizers together and they started the Holiday Drive by collecting some funds at different chamber events. There will be a tent next to the Christmas tree at the Festival of Lights where anyone can drop off presents or food donations.
The Salvation Army of Lee County hosts the Christmas Cheer program each year. Local families pre-registered for the program and are allowed to shop for the holidays at the Salvation Army’s Fort Myers’ warehouse. Last year the organization doled out 40,000 gifts to local children.
And this year, officials from The Salvation Army are expecting to collect and give out more gifts than ever.
“I expect that we will,” said Megan Spears, spokesperson. “It depends on the generous donations from the community.”
The Salvation Army is still accepting donations of Christmas gifts, she said. It acts as a distribution center for the United States Postal Service’s Letter Carrier Toy Drive today — with an average of 30,000 gifts — and for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.
Local businesses, churches, civic organizations and individuals also contribute toys for the drive.
“We could never do what we do in this community without those integral partners,” she said.
Gifts are being accepted for children of all ages. Any Lee County residents wanting to donate can bring gifts directly to the Salvation Army’s offices at 10291 McGregor Blvd., at 2400 Edison Ave., or any of the The Salvation Army family stores. Larger pickups may be picked up by organization staff by calling 278-1551.
“One thing we find we often need are gifts for older children; we serve children all the way up to 13 years old,” said Spears.
Last year the Salvation Army gave stockings, new toys, books or board games to 10,000 children in Lee County.
The post office’s Letter Carrier Toy Drive is today and Debra Mitchell, customer relations for the U.S. Postal Service, said employees will pick up toys from homes during their route. Residents can leave toys in their mailbox, next to their door, on their porch or drop them off at their local post office.
The carrier drive is always the first Saturday in December, she said, and the Marine Corps League picks up the toys as part of Toys for Tots.
“The majority of toys for the whole holiday season come from that one day toy drive,” said Mitchell.
Judy Bowler, coordinator for Lee County Toys for Tots, said there are 150 toy collection sites across the county. She added that the Letter Carrier Toy Drive is significant.
“That is our biggest drive,” said Bowler. “Most of the distribution goes through The Salvation Army, but we do accommodate some other organizations, too.”
People who miss today’s drive can drop presents off at any Walgreen’s store in Lee County, she said.
The Breeze office, at 2510 Del Prado Blvd., is also a Toys For Tots drop-off point in Cape Coral.
Toys drives aren’t only designed for kids. Programs like NBC2’s Giving Tree collect presents for senior citizens living in local nursing homes who wouldn’t get presents without this drive.
Fourteen local Perkins Restaurants are participating in the Giving Tree where customers pull a tag off the tree, which lists a specific present, and purchase that present for a local senior.

Other charity drives:

– Operation Fill Up the Boat kicks off
“Fill Up the Boat,” organized by Cape Coral police officers and members of the U.S. Coast Guard, will be held today and Sunday at the Wal-Mart on Del Prado Boulevard South in Cape Coral..
Volunteers from the agencies will stand by boats located in the parking lot to collect gifts for local families in need. Donations are welcome for children of all ages, but there always is a need for toys and gifts for ages 8-15. The gifts will be distributed to the families with the assistance of the chaplains from the Cape Coral Police Department.

– Macy’s Make-A-Wish letter fund raiser
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and Macy’s have started the Macy’s Believe Campaign where every letter to Santa that gets dropped off at Macy’s, the department store will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The 2008 campaign raised $1 million to grant the wishes of 1,300 children nationwide.
– ‘Stuff a car’ toy drive
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post #18 will host its first “Stuff A Car” event Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to collect new and unwrapped toys at Toys R Us at 4983 Cleveland Avenue in Fort Myers. Toys will be donated to The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

– More
Food and new toy donations may be dropped off at John Michael’s Fine Jewelers, 1325 Cape Coral Parkway.
Fafco Solar is a drop off location for holiday donations to the Harry Chapin Food Bank. Donations can be dropped off at Fafco Solar at 901 S.E. 13th Place from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.