LUTZ — Bob Loring smiled as he watched the children opening their toys, ripping off the wrapping and exclaiming "Yes!" and "Cool!"
"I like this part better than any other part," Loring, the head of Toys for Tots in east Pasco, told 25 Cox Elementary students as they received their presents. "Here I actually get to see kids opening their packages."
Students at the 11th annual Toys for Tots Veterinary Holiday Party, which took place Tuesday at Pasco Veterinary Medical Center in Lutz, received small toys, a free meal courtesy of Publix and an education about veterinary careers.
As much as Loring enjoyed bringing smiles to these children's faces, he worried he might not have enough toys for all the other children served by Toys for Tots.
He noted that this year's Toys for Tots postal drive did not bring in as many donations as previous years.
"For the first time, I'm scared," he said Tuesday. "I'm worried that we're not going to bring in enough toys to serve the kids we have registered."
About 4,000 East Pasco children have registered this year to receive Toys for Tots assistance, and Loring has decided not to accept any more applications. He hopes fervently that more toys will come in before the Dec. 15 Toys for Tots distribution.
But on Tuesday, he tried to set those worries aside and watch the kids enjoy their holiday party and discuss their plans for the future.
"I want to be a veterinarian so I can work with instruments and do X-rays," said Julia Johnson, a 9-year-old fourth-grader. "And I think animals are cool."
Tabatha Rivera, a 9-year-old fourth-grader, said she has always wanted to be a veterinarian, too. While she received a present at Tuesday's party, she also wanted something more: a job application.
"How old do you have to be to work here?" she asked.
Tabatha and her classmates got to meet veteran vet Dr. Marlene Siegel, who told them about various types of veterinary careers and how to prepare for them. Siegel also stressed the roles that vets and pet owners can play in supplying their animals with healthy, environmentally safe food and medicines.
"You could have the power to make the world a better place," she told the children.
The kids also heard presentations from animal enthusiast and retired Pasco principal Peggy Lewis, who brought her dog, Harry, and from Cpl. Mary Guyer, an Officer Friendly with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Siegel and her staff members gave students a tour of her facility, including the exam room, the radiology lab, the horse stable at the back of the center, and the X-ray lab.
"I saw what a dog looks like on the inside," said Beatrice Hernandez, 10. "And it's amazing!"
"I learned about different parts of animals' bodies," said Delia Vergara, 11.
Delia says she has always wanted to be a veterinarian; and in the wake of Tuesday's party, her career plans have been amended and enhanced.
"I want to be a vet who teaches kids about animals," she said.