By early Saturday afternoon, the shelves were starting to get a little thin at the Christmas Toy Shop on 16th St. N in St. Petersburg.
The shop, which distributes toys to needy families, was jammed. Volunteer clerks helped parents choose and then brought their stuffed Santa-bags to a long table to be checked, along with paper slips that showed the ages of the children in each family — blue for boys, pink for girls, yellow for infants under 1.
The checkers at the table made sure that each kid had a package of new toys and a package of used toys suited for his or her age. The younger kids also got stuffed animals or dolls. Families got a bonus board game.
I admit to you that as one of the checkers, when I saw a family with several kids old enough, I put a copy of "Risk" in the bag out of a sense of nostalgic mischief. I pictured new generations fighting over the invasion of Irkutsk.
But, as I say, the shelves were starting to thin out. The shop's last two days of distribution are today and Saturday, and it's not too late for you to make a donation of a new, unwrapped toy.
(Here I confess a conflict of interest — my wife is on the all-volunteer board of the Christmas Toy Store. So let me spread the appeal to all the other great groups out there.)
I called around to several groups in the Tampa Bay area and heard a common theme: Donations are the same as past years or down a little, but the need is greater.
"The problem is toys," says Jeanne Coulter of the Salvation Army in Pasco County. Like everybody else, the Army can use more donations of new, unwrapped toys. You can drop them off at 8040 Washington St. in Port Richey.
Several groups are running toy campaigns in Hernando County. Bob Ross of the Marine Toys for Tots campaign in Hernando says his group is accepting donated toys at sites throughout the county until Friday for a distribution on Saturday. "The collection boxes are down," Ross says, "but applications are up."
Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa just put out a fresh appeal for toys and food. On Sunday, the group bought another $5,000 worth of toys but expected them all to be distributed by Monday evening. It is accepting donations from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at its Holiday Center, 2002 N Florida Ave. in Tampa.
In Pinellas, the Salvation Army is still accepting unwrapped toys for ages infant to 12 at 3800 Ninth Ave. N, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. So is the YMCA of Pinellas, which is collecting toys through Dec. 22 at 3200 First Ave. S.
This brings me back to the nonprofit, all-volunteer Christmas Toy Shop, at 550 16th St. N in St. Petersburg. Donations are accepted between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. In fact, it's not too early to think about next year — the shop also has a magnificent volunteer force that works all year to refurbish used toys.
I've left out the names of several, even dozens of groups who are doing the same joyful work. Please look for them. There's nothing to make you feel like Christmas than knowing a little kid will wake up to something that he wouldn't have without you.
On Saturday, I saved one little stuffed monkey and sat it up on the shelf in front of me, an unofficial mascot. When the last bag of the day came by, I slipped it in. I hope the kid who gets it likes it.