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Community's compassion fuels true holiday spirit

The mutilated gift wrapping is in piles. So, too, are the new toys, sweaters, electronic gadgets and assorted other symbols of giving, receiving and Christmas consumerism.

Some already have made the once-a-year pilgrimage to a church sanctuary, mixed a mimosa and are contemplating the afternoon/evening meal of perhaps ham, turkey or rib roast.

There are few worries, unless your parents are fearful you'll shoot your eye out with the official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle.

Bob Loring, however, worries. The 2011 Christmas season has not yet concluded and he is thinking 51 weeks ahead when East Pasco Toys for Tots holds its distribution for the 2012 yuletide season.

The anxiety is understandable. The mid-December holiday food giveaways around the region gained notoriety for demand exceeding supply. In Brooksville, 150 people stood in line three hours before the Shiloh Problem Solvers' first Christmas food distribution. In New Port Richey, a line started forming 28 hours before the beginning of a food giveaway, coordinated by Sen. Mike Fasano. Publix gift cards replaced the hams and fixings when the staples ran out.

So, Loring worries about a continued down economy. He worries abut what will happen when the U.S. Postal Service ceases deliveries on Saturdays. Half of the 26,000 toys collected and distributed by East Pasco Toys for Tots are donated on the first Saturday of December during the letter carriers' annual toy drive.

Then again, Loring should have fewer worries. There is a $5,000 head start on the 2012 distribution — half of $10,000 contributed by Wells Fargo after a public spat over removing Toys for Tots donation boxes from bank branches in west Pasco.

And, there is a holiday spirit among the community that answers the calls for donations with an abundance of generosity. The long lines for the free food didn't materialize at East Pasco's toy distribution sites, in part, because participants have learned they will not be shut out.

At 8 a.m. the line outside the Land O'Lakes Community Center, one of six east Pasco distribution points operating on Dec. 17, numbered 82 people. That is a stark contrast to just a few years ago when more than two dozen people were outside by 1 a.m. and the line eventually stretched all the way around the building.

Martha Estrada fronted this year's line by arriving at 2 a.m. She came right from her job cleaning offices, camped out for six hours, picked up toys for her three daughters, and then headed back to work. She hadn't been to sleep in more than 25 hours.

Inside, the building she had more than 4,000 toys from which to choose. The popular item, for girls anyway, was Barbie. The game table included a stack of 50 boxes containing Candyland. Around the room sat Nerf guns, stuffed animals and children-flavored DVDs like Kim Possible and High School Musical. Each child is entitled to nine separate items from two large-scale toys to smaller items and stocking stuffers. Teenage volunteers did the lugging and provided free gift wrapping.

The toys come from businesses, civic associations, churches and individuals. Loring attributes part to the success to the grandparent effect. Retirees might not have a nearby grandchild to spoil, so they buy a gift to help spoil someone else. But success also comes because the mission is that toys donated locally will remain local. In other words, the community helps itself.

By the way, it's not just toys. Food for Tots, a separate charity, distributes 100 food boxes at each of the six sites. It's enough food to feed a family of four for a week. Next year, the Rotary Club will begin Skivvies for Tots and hand out socks and toothbrushes in Land O'Lakes. That operation already occurs at the other locations. Merchandise, however, is just part of it. The logistics require dedicated volunteers.

"My elves come back every year,'' said Loring, "I think they get more out of it than the families.''

And therein likes the true spirit of Christmas. The benefactors feel just as blessed as the beneficiaries — the less fortunate who awoke this morning with presents, tens of thousands of presents, under Christmas trees across the county.

It can humble an ex-Marine.

"I am continually stunned,'' said Loring, "by the generosity and love I receive from this community.''

Indeed. On this Christmas Day, Bob Loring can stop worrying.

Community's compassion fuels true holiday spirit 12/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 24, 2011 3:31am]
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