Santa may have elves at the North Pole, but in Clearwater he has the residents and staff of Bayview Gardens retirement center. They've been busy, too. Using money out of their own pockets that they collected all year, the Bayview Gardens elves delivered 33 new bicycles Friday to the Marines' Toys for Tots program during the 10th Annual Magic 94.9 14-Hour Toy Drive Marathon at the Walmart Supercenter in Oldsmar.
Twelve residents and eight staff members left Bayview Gardens by 7:30 a.m. Friday to make the trip to Oldsmar with all the bicycles.
"It's our third year donating to Toys for Tots," said Janie Jones, Bayview Gardens activity director. "We bought bikes on sale throughout the year and stored them. We have 160 residents, and each one does something. They donate what they can afford. For some it's $2 a month, others it's $50."
Staff members donated $2 to the cause on payday every other Friday, and in return got permission to wear jeans to work that day. The staff also held a bake sale to raise more cash, and the Bayview Gardens maintenance workers assembled each bike.
But it was the residents who made the moment magic on Friday.
Wearing wide grins and Santa hats, the center's residents wheeled the bikes up to the Marines. And each expressed joy in the giving.
"I think it's a wonderful thing to do for the children," said Dave Henderson, 86, a veteran who served at Pearl Harbor, Saipan and in Japan.
Some residents had participated before, but each year is different.
"The first year we participated last minute and came up with a couple hundred dollars," said Sharon Armitage, Bayview executive assistant, who spearheaded the Bikes for Kids program. "It was such a wonderful experience we wanted to do something bigger."
And they did.
The group spent around $2,200 to buy the 33 bikes, which ranged from $40 to $90 each. Eight Marines in uniform eagerly added the bikes to their Toys for Tots collection.
"It's that time of year when we take time out of our workday to help out the kids who wouldn't have a Christmas without the support of the community," said Lt. Cpl. Hanhoan Dam, of Clearwater. "We couldn't do this without the local support."
Dam and the rest of the Marines of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion of Tampa brought two amphibious assault vehicles and parked them in front of Walmart. The goal was to fill the vehicles with toys five times — one more load than last year.
Two shoppers for the volunteer group MS2Cares at Lockheed Martin in Oldsmar exited Walmart with a cart full of everything from MP3 players for teens to toys for infants.
"We held a bake sale and made $500 from the employees," said Karen Ferreri of Lockheed.
By 9:30 a.m. Friday, one Marine vehicle was half-full with everything from dolls to remote control trucks, princess dresses to Transformers.
Walmart manager Brad Ausdemore said he can't thank the community enough.
Toys for Tots is "such a great organization to be a part of," said Ausdemore. "And we're happy to have helped out for the past 10 years."
Bayview residents were happy to help, too. They donated bikes from 16 inches high with training wheels to 10-speeds. Bikes sparkled in pink, blue, silver, orange and other colors. Some sported tassels hanging from the handlebars.
"I think it is great the Marines have been doing this for years," said one Bayview resident, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Stroebel, 86. "We residents like participating in this worthy cause."
Dorothy McCombs, who turns 90 on Christmas, agreed.
"I love this," said McCombs. "I came last year and was hoping I'd be here this year to go again."